Las Vegas outlaws camping or sleeping on downtown streets as protesters decry the citys war on the poor – USA TODAY

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LAS VEGAS – A proposed ordinance that would criminalize camping or sleeping on the streets of downtown is fueling a large protest inside City Hall.

Protesters flooded City Council chambers on Wednesday with signs reading “Poverty is not crime” and “Eat the rich.”

Others led chants of disapproval aimed at Mayor Carolyn Goodman and council members: “Housing not handcuffs! Housing not handcuffs! … Hey hey, ho ho — the war on the poor has got to go!”

A line of people waiting to comment on the ordinance wrapped around the chambers. Before the first comment, Goodman warned the crowd that anyone speaking out in the audience risked getting kicked out of the meeting.

“You can’t hear me if you keep screaming,” Goodman said, but yelling continued in the crowd. “Excuse me, let’s try to have some manners.”

A history of harsh tactics 

If the ordinance is passed, camping or sleeping in public areas when beds are open at homeless shelters will be considered a misdemeanor.

Read the full ordinance here: 

The proposed ordinance represents another chapter in the city’s decades-long effort to sweep homeless people off the streets of downtown – a campaign that has included some of the country’s harshest tactics.

The City Council criminalized food handouts to people in public, closed parks and outlawed naps within 500 feet of feces – a blunder that was later repealed. The former mayor – Carolyn Goodman’s husband, the flamboyant mob attorney Oscar Goodman –  even proposed moving the homeless to an abandoned prison 30 miles away.

Opposition at the microphone

On Wednesday, Las Vegas residents and homeless struggling to survive on the streets stepped up to the microphone and rejected the proposed law.

If there’s money to build stadiums in Southern Nevada, there’s money to help people without roofs over their heads, said George Allen, a homeless man working in the home care industry,

“We need to be able to work together,” he said. “We need to find a way.” 

Stretch Sanders, president of All Shades United, called the City Council “lousy” and alleged the mayor is out to feed herself – not “feeding the block.”

The ordinance “is a total camouflage for doing nothing,” said Las Vegas attorney Gerald Gillock. His office is in the 400 block of South 4th Street, where he encounters the homeless on the streets every day. “It doesn’t require the city to do one single thing.”

Protesters in the crowd peppered the public comment portion of the meeting with outbursts of jeers and cheers.

Goodman asked security to escort a man and a woman out of the chambers. 

“Death to the bourgeoisie,” the man yelled, raising a red protest sign in the air. “Remove me!” 

As of noon, the City Council had not voted on the ordinance.

Homeless ordinance enters politics

Several Democratic presidential candidates have weaved the ordinance into their campaigns – a strategy that has drawn criticism from GOP leaders.

“Democrat candidates for President opposing the ordinance the Las Vegas City Council is voting on today are advocating for the homeless to continue suffering on our streets,” said Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael J. McDonald in a statement. “Their pandering has also exposed them for the hypocrites they truly are.”

The GOP backlash follows opposition of the ordinance from former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and businessman Tom Steyer.

This is a developing story. Check RGJ.com for updates. 

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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Ed Komenda writes about Las Vegas for the Reno Gazette Journal and USA Today Network. Do you care about democracy? Then support local journalism by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal right here

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