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?
6 hours ago