The city of Las Vegas passed an ordinance Wednesday that would criminalize people camping or sleeping on downtown streets if beds are available at established shelters, despite protesters decrying the "war on the poor."
Protesters inundated the City Council chambers Wednesday showing their disapproval of the law by holding signs reading "Poverty is not a crime" and "Eat the rich," as well as chants of disapproval against Mayor Carolyn Goodman, the Reno-Gazette Journal reported.
"Housing not handcuffs! Housing not handcuffs! ... Hey hey, ho ho — the war on the poor has got to go!” protesters yelled.
The ordinance attracted fierce debate with a line of people waiting to comment on the proposed ordinance wrapping around the chambers, but the mayor warned the audience that anyone who spoke out in the audience without waiting in line, risked being kicked out of the city council meeting.
"You can’t hear me if you keep screaming," Goodman said, as the crowd continued to express their disapproval. "Excuse me, let's try to have some manners."
The council voted 5-2 in favor of the law that applies to the city's downtown area, not the Las Vegas Strip, which falls under the purview of the unincorporated towns of Paradise and Winchester.
Beginning Sunday, public officers will begin warning people found "camping, lodging, sitting, lying down, sleeping and similar activities," in most areas in downtown. After Jan. 1, the law takes effect and people who are found to be doing similar activities can be punished by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Las Vegas has passed a number of ordinances in recent years, including criminalizing handouts of food to people in public and closing public parks. According to one estimate by officials there are more than 14,000 homeless in and around the Las Vegas area at some point during the year. According to a review by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, there are about 2,000 beds available, plus, another open-air courtyard where more than 300 people stay on any given night.
“This is flawed, but it is a start,” the mayor said, adding that Las Vegas' economy was based on an image of being an attractive tourist destination. "We have been having these conversations for 20 years and we must have results."
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