"I won't coddle" homeless, Las Vegas mayor says
This is a boomtown, but it is also scattered with signs of bust — namely, homeless people. And the city is taking a hard line against...
The Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — This is a boomtown, but it is also scattered with signs of bust — namely, homeless people. And the city is taking a hard line against them.
With mixed success in the courts and on the streets, Las Vegas has tried sweeping away their encampments, closing a park where they hang out, and making it a crime to feed them in parks.
Mayor Oscar Goodman has been leading the charge in his effort to clean up and revitalize the city's aging downtown, north of the world-famous Las Vegas Strip.
The booming Las Vegas area of 1.8 million people expands by more than 5,000 a month but also counts 14,500 homeless people.
Goodman, a former lawyer for the mob with a flair for the dramatic, said many of the homeless people are ruining things for their neighbors by breaking the law while on drugs and alcohol, and "that's intolerable to me." He said the goal is to get homeless people to use shelters and other services.
The crackdown has alarmed homeless people and their defenders.
Goodman "has the idea that every homeless person is public enemy No. 1," said Greg Malm, a 58-year-old homeless man. "He wants this city to be lily white, for the tourists."
Over the years, the mayor has also proposed moving homeless people to an abandoned prison 30 miles outside the city and once accused Salt Lake City officials of busing homeless people to Las Vegas.
"The sense that to be human is to help each other out, it's under siege," said Julia Occhiogrosso, an advocate for the poor with Catholic Worker.
The current battleground is the city's public parks. Officials recently closed Huntridge Circle Park after a homeless man was killed there in a fight.
In July, Las Vegas made it illegal to feed poor people in parks — a reaction to homeless advocate Gail Sacco's practice of bringing homemade spaghetti, vegetable soup, sandwiches and water to Huntridge Circle Park.
Before it was closed, the park had received a $1.5 million facelift. After residents complained that Sacco's free food was drawing poor people away from a neighborhood three miles away where most social services and shelters are concentrated, the City Council made it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 to feed anyone "who a reasonable ordinary person" would believe to be entitled to public assistance.
The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the ordinance, and a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional. City officials promised to rewrite the law.
Sacco now brings food to homeless people in another park — this one across the street from City Hall. On a recent afternoon, a dozen people huddled around a bucket of soup, sending steam toward the mayor's 10th-floor offices.
"Nobody wants it their back yard," Sacco said. "Obviously, there are people there who are dangerous, but they don't have to be homeless to be dangerous. And being homeless does not make you a criminal."
The mayor shows little patience for Sacco's work.
"To give a sandwich in the park doesn't do anything," Goodman said. He called advocates like Sacco "enablers crying like bleating sheep."
"I'm trying to get these people to a shelter; that's where the services take place, not in a park," he said. "I won't coddle them."
As for the park, the mayor plans to keep it closed until someone comes up with a way to curb the problems.
Goodman insisted more money and services are not necessary. He noted that the city's 400 emergency shelter beds are often not full. "No one is turned away," he said.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.