A new ordinance aimed at helping to connect the city’s homeless population with services that can help to get them off the streets goes into effect beginning Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. However, the primary intent of the ordinance is not to cite or arrest homeless people. It is to help guide them to services that will help break the cycle of homelessness. The ordinance is intended to give homeless individuals a choice to get assistance so that they no longer have to live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions on the street.
The ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to camp or sleep in the public right-of-way, such as a sidewalk or street, downtown and in all residential areas if space is available at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center or another nonprofit service provider in the Corridor of Hope. If all beds and spaces are full at the Courtyard and shelters, then the ordinance would not be enforced during those periods of the day.
Law enforcement will be able to notify individuals that they are in a right-of-way and direct them to services at the Courtyard and other providers. Proliferation of homeless individuals in public rights-of-way has resulted in hygiene and sanitation issues, often around businesses and food processing locations.
The city of Las Vegas is committed to helping connect homeless individuals and families with needed services to help them break the cycle of homelessness. Since August of 2017, when the Courtyard opened at 314 Foremaster Lane, more than 28,000 requests for services have been taken. In July of 2019 alone, city staff assisted more than 1,400 individuals at the Courtyard.
The Courtyard is an example of an innovative public-private partnership and convenes a range of service providers to assist homeless clients with access to housing, medical/mental health services, legal assistance, employment opportunities, income/benefit assistance, food, clothing and additional wraparound services.
The city of Las Vegas has committed $16 million to develop and launch The Courtyard, and the long-term plan includes infrastructure such as shade structures, new building construction, beds, landscaping and furniture to outfit a range of spaces from a clinic and kitchen to case management offices. In addition, a portion of this plan includes operational costs, such as medical care, intake, social services, security and housing services. Additional funding through the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE will support capital and programming costs to ensure a wide range of services to meet the needs of all individuals and families experiencing homelessness in our community 365 days a year.
Important things to know about the ordinance
- The ordinance was designed to help direct people to the city’s Courtyard Homeless Resource Center and other existing nonprofits to connect those in need to services and help break the cycle of homelessness.
- The city spends $2.7 million a year in homeless cleanup efforts.
- At least 107 cities across the country have a similar ordinance in place.
- More than 6,500 individuals and families in Southern Nevada lack permanent housing – with 67 percent of our homeless population sleeping outside.
- By helping get the homeless off the street and into shelters, it will help the homeless and protect the health and safety of the entire community. Homeless individuals generally lack access to primary and mental health care and/or basic facilities designed to reduce public health risks, such as bathrooms and refrigerators.
- Communities fear that homeless street populations have the ability to reduce real property values by five to 15 percent. Loitering, panhandling, encampments, increased trash from food and other waste create blight and public health hazards in neighborhoods all over the valley. Research shows that wise investment into housing and homeless services actually maintains or increases the value of residential properties.
- Homeless street populations increase the perception that an area is not safe. Though most homeless have an increased risk of becoming victims of crimes as opposed to perpetrating crimes, homeless people loitering in and around public spaces can create concerns of safety.
- The city has always demonstrated compassion for the needs of the growing homeless population, understanding the public safety of everyone is a top priority.
- The Downtown Las Vegas Alliance recently conducted a survey of their membership and found that 83 percent of downtown business owners support the ordinance.
Common concerns about the ordinance
The city is trying to criminalize homelessness.
While the ordinance is applicable to all citizens, it is not aimed at criminalizing homelessness, but certain behaviors. Arrests/citations are discretionary for officers who will use the ordinance as a tool. While the ordinance is applicable to all citizens, it is not aimed at criminalizing homelessness, but certain behaviors. Arrests/citations are discretionary for officers who will use the ordinance as a tool. Enforcement is the last resort. The goal is to help the homeless get into available beds so they can be helped. Officers enforce only as a last resort when someone is resistant to assistance and resources, and their actions pose a public safety or health concern.
The city doesn’t have enough affordable housing.
We are doing all we can, but we need additional help from the county and state. Until more housing is available, the city must continue to address the immediate issue of the health and safety of the homeless and the community.
There aren’t enough mental health services for the homeless.
We agree, but that is a state and county issue.
There isn’t enough shelter space for the homeless.
Our Courtyard provides a secure, safe place. The city is also working on additional shelter beds.
Homelessness should be a regional approach.
We agree and look forward to a legislature-mandated working group/committee. But, in the meantime, all of the shelters are located in the city of Las Vegas.
Some homeless dislike shelters.
We understand that some homeless individuals prefer to remain nomadic; however, the city wants to engage those who want services and also preserve the health, safety, and welfare of the entire community.
The city doesn’t have enough bathrooms for the homeless.
We provide restroom facilities at the Courtyard. There are 12 porta-potties that are cleaned and emptied daily.
How the available bed notification system works:
The city of Las Vegas has been working with homeless services providers and law enforcement to set up a text/email system with push notifications to communicate how many beds are available at shelters.
- The automated system will send out texts to service providers starting at 6 p.m. that will ask them to update the number of beds available at their facility.
- The text will include a link to an automated form where the provider will select their shelter from a drop down window and enter number of available beds.
- That information will then automatically be sent to a group that includes staff from the city’s Office of Community Services and law enforcement. It will also be updated on the city website at www.lasvegasnevada.gov/homeless.
- The texts will continue to go out every two hours until 4 a.m., or all the shelters are full for the night.
Where the ordinance is in effect:
All residential neighborhoods, in all wards, are included. If a property or parcel is zoned residential or has a special use permit or conditional use permitting for residential use, then any adjacent public right-of-way (typically a sidewalk, street or alley) must remain clear of campers and sleepers.
All 12 Downtown Master Plan Districts have blanket coverage, meaning all public rights-of-way in the downtown districts—no matter what type of property the public right-of-way abuts—must remain clear of campers and sleepers.