Federal judge rejects Las Vegas ban on feeding homeless in parks

Monday, November 20th 2006, 10:28 pm
By: News On 6

LAS VEGAS (AP) A federal judge on Monday rejected the city's ban on feeding poor or homeless people in city parks.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman had argued that handouts discourage homeless people from seeking help from social service providers set up to handle mental health and substance abuse problems. Neighbors had complained of large numbers of homeless people congregating at downtown parks, drawn by groups providing meals.

But U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones issued an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the ordinance, passed in July, and told lawyers for the city and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada that he intends to issue an order killing the measure. No date was set for final action.

``The judge said you can't just ban providing food to people who look poor,'' said Lee Rowland, the ACLU lawyer who argued the case. She said the key fault in the city ordinance was that it made distinctions among people based on their appearance.

Las Vegas officials vowed to rewrite the law so it would pass constitutional muster.

``The main thing is to make sure these people get professional care,'' Goodman said of homeless and indigent people, who he added ``deserve to be in service centers and with faith-based groups.''

``I know I'm right on this one,'' the mayor said. ``We just have to get the law in shape.''

Since the ordinance took effect, several summonses have been handed out by city marshals at parks in the downtown area, several miles from the Las Vegas Strip.

One municipal court judge tossed out a misdemeanor case against a California activist last month and called the ordinance unconstitutionally vague. That judge said the measure denied equal protection of the law to all citizens.