Drug use or mental illness shouldn’t be a license for someone to turn a public sidewalk into their personal campground.
Yet that’s what you’ll see as you drive along sections of Las Vegas Boulevard and Bonanza Road. Homeless people have set up tents on the sidewalk, with all the filth and debris that comes from living on the streets. Instead of being public passageways, the sidewalks feel inaccessible and unsafe unless you’re pushing a stolen shopping cart.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman wants to change that. She’s proposed an ordinance that would make it illegal to camp or sleep on the sidewalk if shelter space is available. Throughout Clark County there are 1,800 emergency shelter beds. If the measure passes and beds are available, the police would offer a homeless person a choice: Go and receive services or receive a citation and be removed by police.
When considering the merits of this proposal, it’s important to realize there are different reasons people are homeless. Some homeless people don’t want to be in their current state. Maybe they lost housing after losing a job. Perhaps a woman is fleeing an abusive relationship. No one wants to punish people like this.
Goodman has shown this by championing the Corridor of Hope — a centralized place where the homeless can receive shelter and services. This includes the city’s Courtyard Homeless Resource Center, which currently provides shelter to around 200 people a night. Thanks to a $15 million expansion, the city is working to increase capacity to 500 people a night.
The goal of the courtyard project isn’t just providing people with a safe place to sleep. It’s to get them the help they need to help themselves. Nonprofits, such as the Salvation Army, the Shade Tree and Catholic Charities, are in the corridor to provide help that goes beyond short-term shelter. It’s a great model — for those interested in receiving help.
But some homeless people aren’t just down on their luck. The root cause of their homeless is addiction, mental illness or a combination of the two. More than 75 percent of unsheltered homeless people have mental health conditions, Three-fourths of unsheltered homeless have addiction issues. Those findings are from the California Policy Lab at UCLA.
It’s cruel, not kind, to allow these folks to stay on the streets. People with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, can’t think straight. Drug addiction can cause people to prioritize their next high over keeping their children safe. These aren’t appropriate choices or alternative lifestyles. These are people ravaged by demons and vices they won’t or can’t control. Compassion doesn’t entail allowing them to stay in a stupor. It means forcing them to go where they can get help.
Goodman’s homeless camping ban wouldn’t be beneficial just because it would help the public feel safe walking down the sidewalk. It would also help those who are currently unwilling or unable to seek the help they need.
Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 10 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at email@example.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.