Friday, August 04, 2006

In Las Vegas pigeons get food; homeless get penny slots

When in a city park is it legal to feed the birds but not the humans? When you feed them in Las Vegas. Just over a week ago the Mayor and Las Vegas city council passed a ordinance which made it illegal to feed a homeless person in a city park with up to $1000 fine and/or six months in jail. Already seven people have been fined and three arrested for feeding the homeless. The resolution passed unanimously.

The city claims that the ordinance is because they care, that when the homeless use the city parks they are pulled away from the care they could be receiving at shelters. Yet the shelters are strategically placed in “the corridor” far away from the tourist areas, and center of town and contain only hundreds of beds for the 12,000 Las Vegas Homeless, now 1.2% of the official population. Also, the area is considered dangerous, even by homeless men, who sometimes opt to avoid it at night or carry knives for safety.

The downtown city park opens from 7 am to 7 pm, and the police frequently raid and arrest homeless entering before or after those times for trespassing. Yet it is these visual reminders that all may NOT be perfect in the city of free flowing alcohol and gambling which is a major irritant to the mayor who had previously brought up privatizing parks in order to be able to charge all homeless with trespassing at all times of day and night saying in support: “I don’t want them there. They’re not going to be there. I’m not going to let it happen. They think I’m mean now; wait until the homeless try to go over there.”. How are law enforcement going to know who is homeless and who isn’t? If the person looks like they need assistance, then they fall into the target scope, “"Certain truths are self-evident," (Mayor) Goodman said. "You know who's homeless." (homeless profiling?)

Las Vegas, who ranked as the meanest city to homeless in 2003 is now holding the number 5 spot. Beyond lack of beds and resources, Las Vegas targets only homeless among the tourists to arrest for trespassing, loitering, and drinking in public, the crackdowns on trespassing lead to longer and longer jail time. They also closed the Crisis Intervention Center and started a program a mouth ago of rounding up homeless against their will for a three day mental health assessments followed by involuntary committal; a program they want to increase. As yet, they haven’t followed Summit, NJ’s example of using the Patriot Act to throw homeless out of public areas based on a Justice Department warning that terrorists could pose as homeless.

The Las Vegas Mayor, Oscar Goodman, was reelected in 2003 with 85.7% of the votes. He is a local, having spent 35 years as a defense lawyer for some of the most famous mob and other organized crime figures including Jimmy Chagra who ordered the murder of a Federal Judge and Chicago mobster Tony Spiloto who was portrayed by Joe Pesci in the Las Vegas mob film, Casino (the film where Goodman also played a cameo role). Mayor Goodman is an erratic character who seems to understand locals and local interests. Apparently he sees no irony in being a spokesperson for Bombay Gin (donating ½ his salary to a private tuition school of $11,000-$15,000 a year founded by his wife to develop “values” to Las Vegas elite children) who in March 3, 2005 told a class of (public school) fourth graders of what he would bring if marooned on a desert island it would be “a bottle of gin” and went on to list “drinking” as his favorite among all his hobbies.

Mayor Goodman takes his duties to Las Vegas seriously; “We're an adult community, an adult playland, let's not pretend to be something we're not. I think anything that's legal should be here.” (Las Vegas Sun 8/2/02). He is adamant against anything that disturbs the vision of the perfect adult playground, not limiting his attack to homeless. In Nov 2005 he suggested that those guilty of graffiti have their thumbs chopped off on television, as well as caning or whipping teen offenders. Earlier this month the mayor considered legal action to stop the upcoming release of the console and PC game Rainbow Six: Las Vegas. Because the game shows terrorist in Las Vegas, the Mayor feels that it could be harmful economically to the image of Las Vegas and thus, “it may be something that's not entitled to free speech”

Mayor Goodman and Las Vegas’s ordinance only highlight a city which sells the idea that anyone can come to Las Vegas, make it big and gamble and drink without consequence. Marta Valenzuela, a health care worker who deals with homeless says, “Ninety percent of my clients have gambling and alcohol problems". The book, The Word on the Street: Homeless men in Las Vegas, recounts homeless getting day jobs through a job lottery (even trying to get work is reduced to gambling?), or earning money though “silver mining” or “credit claimed” by looking for loose chance or unplayed coins around the slot machines. The Western Hotel in Las Vegas is a gambling destination for homeless as they offer penny slots which give a jackpot payoff of just $12…but as importantly comes with two free meal comps. These comps, are frequently sought, as they are sometimes sold off for $2 by those wanting money for drugs or alcohol. There is also 10 cent roulette. Only Las Vegas can find a gambling market for homeless. The city is also famous for exploitation of homeless men with the release of Bum Fight videos where Las Vegas homeless men where encouraged to fight to be filmed for a “reality TV” DVD’s and a online site. Recent videos like Bum Fight III capture multiple scenes of homeless getting beaten by locals and create “Antics” like putting $20 on top of a slippery pole and then filming the homeless men fighting it out to get it. The two men who made Bum Fights, after being found quilty for staging illegal fights, were given community service, which they didn’t do and then lied to the judge about. This resulted last week in a jail sentence of six months. Rufus, a frequent favorite in the videos said, “I think it's a damn light sentence”. He sustains lasting injuries and his friend, also in the videos, is “practically crippled.”

So, for the thousands of homeless in a city hundreds of miles from any other cities, the struggle to survive goes on, just a little harder now. Maybe Mayor Goodman is trying to get his city back up to the number 1 spot for worst city for homeless this year. But, it’s not personal, it’s just business, right? As the Mayor says, “Hatred is not what Las Vegas is about,… We will have zero tolerance for anyone who is intolerant.”; “A place like Las Vegas, which is the greatest city in the world, will not allow anyone to be prejudiced, biased, or hateful.” Eh?

10 comments:

elizabeth said...

Human beings are so totally messed up.
I lived in this town where I remember a neighbour saying that "There aren't any homeless people in Ancaster. The mayor took care of that." Yeah. He shipped them back to Hamilton... messed up.

Karen said...

....something totally off-topic.....how come you don't have my blog listed under "Blogs I read" ?????? I feel left out :(

Murray said...

What kind of society are we when we exploit and dehumanize the most vulnerable? It this the kind of society that the U.S. is wanted to export around the world? I think that perhaps (although Los Vagas may be extreme) these are the values that are being developed in our society - sad state of affairs.

GayProf said...

Wow -- I will add that to the list of reasons why Las Vegas gives me the creeps.

You know, Americans used to call Cuba their "adult playground." Then somebody realized that he could have a golden opportunity by tapping into the anger and resentment caused by drunken, gambling, self-centered, rich Americans. I am not saying, I am just saying.

Anonymous said...

What you and your commenting readers don't get is the severity of the problem. I own a shopping center in Las Vegas which is situated right next to a park in an "off strip" area that has low income housing and a moderate population of homeless. These individuals are not operating on the level of most homeless (I reference Los Angeles homeless which I am used to interacting with as my home is in LA).

When they are not drinking themselves to death in my trash enclosures or on the sides of my shopping center, they are passed out in the park; or checking the customer's cars in my parking lot for unlocked doors which they can then pillage; harassing my tenants and customers in an aggressive way that you have never seen, trust me; defecating on my sidewalks or right in the park on the pathways or under trees (which is for the benefit of the people in the area who actually pay for the park); having sex in full view of the families that are trying to enjoy my establishment or the park...the list could go on and on.

So, before anyone decides that Las Vegas has become too hard on their homeless population, they should maybe come visit my center for a day and watch what Las Vegas has to deal with in their homeless population.

Anonymous said...

this is for the dumb ass who ownes the the store, I was homeless in vegas and its not easy getting a job when people like you want to put us down and not give us a chance. So here is a challange for you why don't you and the mayor be homeless for 1 week and see what it is all about and then just then maybe you can say something about it until then you talk out you ass and have no clue what it is like.

Anonymous said...

Do we want people to see homeless people panhanfling all over the Strip? NO! Do we want them breaking into our cars for loose change so they can buy beer & wine? Is that the kind of thing we want people to see in a tourist society? Again the answer is NO!

Granted there are quite a few homeless people who are in desperate need of help, and the shelters are in a not so savvy area. But the ones who harass people for money just to satisfy their alcoholism or drug habit are the ones that need to be taken off the streets.

Anonymous said...

I am trying to help my friend find her son who is homeless in Las Vegas right now. Adam was an A student with a 4.0 in Cincinnatti just 4 1/2 years ago, and was there on a baseball scholarship with major league teams scouting him. He went to Vegas with some friends and ended up staying there and going downhill fast. He was my friends little boy and she is heartbroken, going there once a month and just wandering the streets searching for her son. I'd like for you people talking about homeless people like they are nothing more than pigeons that litter your streets to look her in the face while she's there sobbing walking the streets and tell her how much of an annoyance her little boy is to you.

Anonymous said...

I am a 21 y/o homeless person here in Las Vegas, and to the person who pointed out all the terrible things drug addicted and alcoholic homeless, I have this to say...

Just because all you see is the homeless people who obviously given up on life, that doesn't mean that all 12,000+ homeless people in las vegas should be persecuted because you're a self absorbed asshole...

I don't urinate or defecate in parks, I don't break into cars, I don't panhandle or ask people for spare change, I don't harass people and I don't drink or use drugs...

I use public bathrooms at casinos, do odd jobs for small amounts of money, use the public library computers, sleep on the bus, and eat whatever and whenever i can (not out of a trash can).

The point is just because someone doesn't look homeless which i don't, doesn't mean they are not part of a general population...

The one and only shelter here is full every night and u generally have to wait in line for 3 or 4 hours in the afternoon heat to find this out. Its in a bad area, esp. for a nonhomeless-looking young gay male.

So before you judge, you should realize that just because the homeless people you notice are committing this crimes, doesn't mean ALL homeless people are...

and the term "passed out" describing homeless people sleeping in public is kinda F**ked up... So if a homeless person is tired and sleeps in public they are "passed out"from drugs or alcohol, but when you go to sleep in your bed you're just sleeping...

If one is homeless, the shelters are full, and they have no where to go, where do you purpose they sleep?

Sleep is something required by the body and without it you could die, would u prefer people sleeping in public or dead bodies strewn about on city sidewalks because there was no where for those people to sleep...

DeltaSigChi4 said...

We're human too.

E