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Henderson banned public camping. How is that affecting the homeless?

Updated December 22, 2023 - 6:17 pm

After the Henderson Police Department started enforcing a public camping ban that passed in June, arrests of homeless people were not significantly higher than the last two years, according to city records.

A police department spokesperson said in an email that Henderson police started training for enforcing the new code in the middle of August and finished at the end of September. The spokesperson said officers were told not to enforce the code until they finished the training.

The department arrested 145 homeless people in September, 136 in October, 140 in November and 48 as of Dec. 14, according to city records. But those figures are not significantly higher than the past two years. September saw the most increase out of all of these months, with only eight more arrests than last year and 13 more than 2021.

August had the most arrests of homeless people out of every month this year with 156, which aligns with previous years.

But city records showed that there were significantly fewer arrests of homeless people in the first seven months of this year than the past two years, and arrests increased by 20 from May to June.

Arrests increased in summer months consistently over the past three years, and the department said it deploys more officers during that time to coordinate with more people going to parks.

The police spokesperson said the department’s focus in dealing with Henderson’s homeless community is to connect members with support resources through the city.

The city attorney’s office said through a city spokesperson that Henderson is taking a “service-based approach” to its homeless community.

‘The city’s service-based approach’

“Our model, unlike other models, relies heavily on us being able to shelter persons that want to be sheltered or provide medical attention if that’s what they need,” said Ian Massy, Henderson’s public response manager.

The Henderson Homeless Response Team placed 37 homeless people into emergency lodging from January to September of this year and gave out 1,566 bus passes to the homeless community this year as of Oct. 17, according to city records. The city awarded the response team just under $1.4 million this year.

“In practice what we’re attempting to do to the best of our ability is to provide them with transportation options,” Massy said, “and get them to a team that specializes in assisting unsheltered individuals, to get them to a shelter beds or to a non congregate living situation like emergency lodging, or to refer them to a provider like HopeLink of Southern Nevada.”

But despite the city giving over a $1 million to the homeless response team and partnering with organizations like HopeLink of Southern Nevada, Henderson’s public camping code itself does not require the city enforcement to provide resources to anyone camping on public property or even mention any resources beyond shelter beds.

The city code only requires that officers enforcing the camping ban check if there are available shelter beds in Southern Nevada and tell the person the location and availability of shelter beds, a stipulation required by two U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

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