Why I opposed the Las Vegas City Council’s controversial proposal to penalize homeless people

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Last week, the Las Vegas City Council passed a controversial proposal that makes it a misdemeanor to sleep or camp on sidewalks in and around downtown Las Vegas. This proposal gained national attention, including criticism from some candidates running in next year’s presidential election. As one of only two council members to oppose the ordinance, I would like to explain my vote and what we need to do to tackle a problem as complex and expensive as homelessness in Southern Nevada.

Prior to being elected to serve Ward 1, I worked for more than 10 years with populations suffering from poverty, and served as chief executive officer of a nonprofit that provides services to low-income children. I represented many homeless service providers as they began to develop long-term and practical solutions to providing services for people who need them.

I know that the key to lifting people out of poverty is supporting programs that address its root causes, not laws that penalize homeless people with jail time and fines that they cannot possibly afford. Significant research confirms that the criminal justice system is the most expensive course of action for working with those individuals affected by homelessness, mental health and addiction issues. There are other paths we can take aside from police enforcement to solve this problem while being good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.

The right approach includes providing adequate housing, mental health, and health care services locally. In Las Vegas, we can work with representatives from Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services, managed care organizations, Medicaid, and our homeless shelter operators and housing operators to help drive needed change. We specifically need to redefine network adequacy for Medicaid and our managed care providers, ensure we have enough qualified providers in areas where services are needed and ensure our reimbursement rates with Medicaid are sufficient to meet the need of professionals providing services to a very challenging population.

The truth is that, in addition to coordinated efforts with the state and Clark County, the city of Las Vegas needs a partner in the federal government to tackle homelessness. The costs associated with adequately addressing issues of homelessness would cripple this entire region, let alone a city with a tax base of about 650,000 residents. Since Presidential Donald Trump took office, his administration has systematically cut funding for services that help people experiencing homelessness. His administration has pushed for $9.6 billion in cuts to critical federal housing programs and seeks to roll back Obama-era policies designed to increase shelter and housing for vulnerable communities, including our veterans. This approach is the complete opposite of what we should be doing and it leaves cities like Las Vegas to address this complex problem alone. Given the absence of homelessness from this administration’s priorities, we need a change in leadership in 2020.

Like many of you, I have had the opportunity to meet many of the Democratic candidates for president in advance of the February Nevada Democratic causes, including Kamala Harris. Last week, Sen. Harris introduced the Ending Homelessness Act with Congresswoman Maxine Waters. This plan appropriates $13 billion in mandatory emergency relief funding over five years to critical federal housing programs in U.S. cities, including construction of new affordable housing units, and support the improved coordination between supportive housing and health care initiatives. Given the homelessness crisis throughout our cities, particularly the American West, it is comprehensive solutions like these that Las Vegas needs to meaningfully tackle our homelessness crisis.

I am committed to finding a solution because our homelessness and housing issue is a moral crisis that must be addressed. I am not suggesting the path forward to tackling this issue is easy or fast. I am also not suggesting that we become dependent on the federal government as a long-term fix. But, in order to eradicate homelessness, we need to recognize that we all have a part to play and it involves the support of federal, state and local governments and related partners. I’m hopeful that, in the near future, we will have the help of a President Harris that understands and prioritizes combatting the root causes of homelessness. We need our federal government to be the partner that Las Vegas deserves at this critical time in our history.

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