Bill would preserve ability for homeless to accept food, sleep ‘in an unobstructive manner’
Lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit ordinances adopted by local governments in Nevada’s urban areas in recent years that ban people from sleeping and living outdoors.
Possible punishments for violating these ordinances are fines and jail time. American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada Policy Manager Lilith Baran said it made more sense to provide the people experiencing homelessness with services rather than fines they often can’t pay.
“It is illogical to fine money to someone who does not have it,” Baran said. “It is a burden on the courts, it is a financial burden on the state and it's a burden on the people who are experiencing it.”
SB155, sponsored by Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas), would prohibit county commissions from enforcing or enacting any law or ordinance that would discriminate “by prohibiting a homeless person from participating in life-sustaining activities” that include “resting in an unobstructive manner, sheltering from the elements in an unobstructive manner, eating, sharing, accepting or giving food in any public place where food is not prohibited and occupying a motor vehicle” that is parked legally.
Along with advocates and volunteers, judges also testified in support, saying they believed local government approaches to handling homelessness are not working and were putting a strain on the justice system. Washoe County Judge Egan Walker called the situation of charging homeless people a crisis.
“The cycle, the hamster wheel, that you've heard the ACLU refer to is real. We catch people, we cite them, we fine them, they can't pay the fines, we issue a warrant, we catch them, we cite them, we fine them, they can't pay the fines, we issue a warrant,” Walker said. “They spend thousands of days in the Washoe County jail at hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs to all of us.”
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.