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Friday, July 21, 2006 - Page updated at 01:31 AM

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Las Vegas makes it illegal to feed homeless people in parks

The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS – In an effort to curb charity that is having unintended consequences, the City Council has made it illegal to give food to homeless people in city parks.

Residents complained that the large numbers of homeless gathering in the parks make it impossible for others to use them, said city spokesman David Riggleman.

"We're trying to empathize with both camps," he said. "We're hoping we can improve their lives and improve the lives of people living around the park, some of whom have people urinating and defecating in front of their door."

The law, which went into effect Thursday, targets so-called "mobile soup kitchens." It carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

Riggleman said that by shutting down such soup kitchens, homeless people will be encouraged to go to a center or charity that offers services such as mental health evaluations or job placement.

Gail Sacco, who operates a mobile soup kitchen seven days a week, said the city doesn't have adequate homeless services and that she is undeterred.

"There's no way for people to get out to those services in triple-digit weather," she said. "My plan is to do anything I feel is needed to keep these people alive."

The law defines a homeless person as an indigent "whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive assistance."

American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada lawyer Allen Lichtenstein said the language makes the law unenforceable.

"The ordinance is clearly unconstitutional and nonsensical," he said. "How are you going to know without a financial statement who's poor and who's not poor?"

"It means they can discriminate based on the way people look," Lichtenstein said.

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