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Las Vegas homeless camping ban may expand for sidewalk cleaning

Updated December 2, 2019 - 4:12 pm

Las Vegas policymakers might expand a controversial ban on camping and sleeping in public to include hours when public sidewalks are being cleaned.

Under a proposed ordinance, the city’s chief of Department of Operations and Maintenance, who is authorized to designate hours for cleaning public sidewalks, would be required to post signs or markings to give notice of those hours.

When cleaning is in effect, it would be a misdemeanor crime to camp, sleep, lie, sit or otherwise obstruct city efforts to sanitize the sidewalks, according to language in the bill.

“We will not stand for the sanitation to be jeopardized in our community,” said Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who is sponsoring the ordinance. “This is just another necessary piece of the entire process and plan that we have.”

The proposal comes as city officials maintain they are trying to stave off a public health crisis amid the rise of homeless encampments in downtown. But it is likely to invite blowback from critics who already have condemned a camping ban approved in early November that they say criminalizes vulnerable homeless people.

The City Council voted 5-2 on Nov. 6 to outlaw camping and sleeping in public areas downtown, and in residential areas throughout the city, if there are beds available at established homeless shelters.

City officials have stressed that a ban on camping in public areas is not unique across the country.

The latest proposed bill does not explicitly define the zones — downtown or residential, for example — where enforcement will occur.

It also does not provide an estimated frequency for sidewalk cleaning nor detail whether offenders would receive warnings — an element present in the existing camping ban.

Speaking to the broader effort to address the multi-faceted homelessness problem, Goodman described the proposal as “pretty perfunctory,” saying that sidewalk cleaning is necessary to remove urine, feces, needles and other waste, and to protect homeless individuals and the general public.

Otherwise, she said, “You’re just waiting for a really terrible disease to strike the community.”

The proposed ordinance is scheduled Monday to come before the city’s recommending committee, a panel of three council members who vet proposed policies before they advance to the full council for deliberation.

It could also be held for a near-future council meeting instead to allow all seven members to weigh in from the start, which would mirror how the existing ban was handled.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

A previous version of this story incorrectly described the functions of the city’s recommending committee. Members examine proposed ordinances and recommend, recommend against or advance them without recommendation to the full City Council. The committee does not reject ordinances.

Clean Sidewalks Bill by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

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