Las Vegas Sued by ACLU Over Homeless Feeding Law

The Associated Press
August 3, 2006

Activists sued Wednesday to strike down a Las Vegas law that makes it illegal to feed homeless people in parks.

The law violates free speech, free assembly and other rights, says the federal suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

The suit was filed on behalf of five activists and the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, a national organization that describes its objective as "sharing free vegetarian food with hungry people and protesting war and poverty."

The group and its members regularly served meals to homeless people in a Las Vegas park, angering neighbours and sparking the debate that led to the ordinance, passed July 19.

It prohibits "providing food or meals to the indigent for free or for a nominal fee" in a city park and defines indigent as a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to county public assistance.

Violators face a fine up to $1,000 and as many as six months in jail. Seven people have been issued summonses, and three have been arrested.

Lee Rowland, public advocate for the ACLU of Nevada, called the ordinance "immoral" and "embarrassing for the city."

"Its language violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by "requiring people to make a snap judgment about others based on how they look," she said.

City attorney Brad Jerbic said he had not seen the suit, but planned to defend the law and the city council, which is named in the complaint along with Mayor Oscar Goodman, the city manager, city marshals and police.

The law was aimed at the advocates' activities in Huntridge Circle park near downtown, Jerbic said. Their mobile meals program drew homeless people away from shelters and health providers.

"The shelters provide food, beds, counselling services and doctors," he said. "What this is doing is, it's pulling them away from services and abandoning them in these parks."

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