- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

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.

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. 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.

Mr. Goodman said it is “intolerable” to him that many of the homeless are ruining things for their neighbors by breaking the law while on drugs and alcohol. He said the goal is to get homeless people to use shelters and other social services.

The crackdown has alarmed the homeless and their defenders.

Mr. 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 proposed moving the homeless to an abandoned prison 30 miles outside the city and once accused Salt Lake City officials of busing the homeless to Las Vegas.

The current battleground is the city’s public parks. Officials closed Huntridge Circle Park after a homeless man was killed there in a fight.

In July, Las Vegas made it illegal to feed the poor 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 face-lift. After residents complained that Mrs. Sacco’s free food was drawing the poor 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 “whom 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.

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