The Las Vegas City Council approved a controversial ban Wednesday that makes it illegal to camp or sleep on the streets in parts of the city, a measure critics say unfairly criminalizes homeless people.
The ordinance, which passed 5-2 after several hours of public comment, makes it a misdemeanor to rest, sleep or “lodge” in Las Vegas’ downtown district and other residential areas if shelter beds are available. Violators will be fined up to $1,000 or jailed for up to six months.
“There is very significant research and data that will confirm that public safety and criminal justice systems are the most expensive course of action for working with individuals affected by homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse,” council member Brian Knudsen, who voted against the ordinance, said during the meeting.
Knudsen represents Ward 1, which includes the city's medical district — an area that will be affected by the ban. “As a good steward of tax dollars, there are other paths that are more responsible for providing services while protecting the tax-paying public’s interests," he said.
Las Vegas will join scores of cities to impose similar ordinances when the ban takes effect Sunday. At least 160 cities across the U.S., including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, have prohibited camping, sitting or lying down in public spaces or outdoor areas, according to a 2016 National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty report.
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