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Advocates Say New City Ordinance Won't Solve Homeless Issue

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(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The City of Las Vegas says it is doing the right thing by fining and potentially jailing homeless campers who refuse to stay in a shelter.

The city council passed the new ordinance last week during a meeting that State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith described as "contentious."

Smith said advocates for the homeless are upset about the ordinance and what they believe it means. 

However, the city is countered with its own view of the problem, he said.

"The city really isn't in the homeless business. That's the problem with the city," Smith said, "The city doesn't really want to be in the homeless business. It just happens to have the homeless services there and it finds itself in the homeless business."

Smith said in the past the city has done a "mixed job" of addressing the homelessness issue despite the efforts of dedicated people. Addressing homelessness is it is not a city problem, Smith noted, but a regional problem with a lot of complexities.

"They have never had enough beds for enough heads and that continues," he said.

In addition, Smith believes the new ordinance actually complicates the issue because the city has to have a level of coordination among Metro, the shelters and its own social services that hasn't been done before.

Support comes from

Emily Paulsen is the executive director of the Nevada Homeless Alliance. Her view of the ordinance is grimmer than Smith's. 

"This ordinance is hugely problematic and it hurts our regional efforts to end homelessness," she said, "It puts federal funding at stake and it will make it much, much harder for people who are homeless to get off the streets by creating additional legal and financial barriers for them."

Paulsen pointed out that shelters in Southern Nevada are already full. She said there are about 5,500 people on the street on any given night and only about 1,300 shelter beds.

Paulsen said ticketing the homeless doesn't work and there is no evidence that it helps people get access to services.

"The problem is not that people don't want help. It's that we don't have enough help to go around," she said.

The real solution, in her view, is creating more housing both emergency and permanent.

"Until we invest in those solutions and take them to the scale necessary, this ordinance will not do anything but hurt people," she said.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman told KNPR's State of Nevada the ordinance is a way to give people a choice and to help connect them to services.

Paulsen pointed out that shelters and the city's Homeless Courtyard are not the right fit for everyone. Homeless youth, families and wheelchair-bound people may not be safe or easily housed in shelters and the courtyard.

She said the long-term solution to homelessness is permanent supportive housing, which is housing that includes a range of services from substance abuse programs to mental health help.

"We know someone can't successfully manage mental health and substance abuse needs when they're living in a storm drain," she said, "But if we can put them in an apartment and wrap around robust supportive services we see this work."

Smith believes there is a strong possibility for a lawsuit to be filed challenging the new ordinance. He thinks with winter fast approaching the ordinance may put more stress on a system that is already overwhelmed.

 

Guests

Emily Paulsen, executive director, Nevada Homeless Alliance; John L. Smith, KNPR contributor

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