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Jul-21-2006 02:11printcomments

Op-Ed: New Las Vegas Law Against Feeding Homeless Underscores City's Real Motivations

The city most efficient at creating homeless people now says they will arrest you if you feed them.

Homeless in America
Homeless in America
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(SALEM) - The city council of Las Vegas, Nevada took down the town's typical facade this week, when they voted to make it illegal to feed homeless people in a park. No glitz, no neon, just the real heart of America's cruelest city laid open like a book.

Now I readily admit that I am no fan of Las Vegas, having survived five years in TV news there between '96 and '01 working for both the NBC affiliate and the FOX station. I think I could say that for the most part, I saw it all.

There just isn't a place that measures up to Vegas when it comes to certain things, like homeless people. The place is designed to create homeless people, and now the city is legislating the starvation of those who lose it all.

One of my favorite lines always was, "I came to Las Vegas in a thirty-thousand dollar car, and left in a hundred-thousand dollar bus."

Maybe all we have to do is consider the source and examine a little Las Vegas history. In the 1970's and 80's, when sin city was run exclusively by "the company," AKA the mob, the city council's fearless leader, mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman, was the attorney for Vegas mobsters "Tony" Spilotro and "Lefty" Rosenthal. He is now the subject of a book titled "Of Rats and Men" and it takes the flattery meter down a few notches.

Once when I was covering a fundraising event for Oscar Goodman's election, I was told not to interview a certain young man who was setting tables. "Don't interview the retard" was the exact phrase bumbled by this man who worked for Goodman. It turned out that the young man I wasn't supposed to interview, was the step-brother of Natalie Wood.

I hope those Las Vegas councilors can live with themselves, because you either would have to be conscience-free to make this kind of decision, or a person who never had one at all.

One of my unshakeable memories in Las Vegas goes back to a day when I was getting on the freeway on my motorcycle. Accelerating down the onramp, I looked over at the park off of Washington and saw a man with no arms just sitting there on the grass, sort of rocking. He didn't ask to end up like that, and I felt terrible for him, as I motored along my way with the other mindless Las Vegans.

Having spent years visiting homeless people in shelters in places like Vegas for news stories, I developed more of a sense for the system these folks live within. The St. Vincent de Paul way of doing things isn't bad for a person totally willing to give up their vices and adhere to a particular religion, but that is a tiny majority of homeless people.

The problem isn't very different here in Salem, Oregon, where several hundred homeless people live and exist. Those willing to follow "the program" at the mission are offered what they need to improve.

But if one out of three Americans suffers from mental illness, then isn't it logical to assume that most of these folks are the one out of three? Before Reagan, money existed to take care of people who were mentally and physically impaired. Now we kick them to the street, offer them nothing, and arrest people for feeding them. I can’t even believe I am writing about this.

Many are veterans. No wait, let me say that again, MANY ARE VETERANS! Vietnam did things to the healthy minds of young Americans that are unfathomable to all but the experts, those who served, and those who have tried to live with them in the wake of their combat service.

So I guess the Las Vegas, Nevada city council is anti-veteran too? That’s what it amounts to. They ought to have fun, because there are going to be so many scarred and psychologically damaged veterans from the current war for them to pick on in the future.

You really have to be there to appreciate the absurdity of the place. The school board for example, pushes the 'abstinence only' agenda like old Ralph Reed himself, while the city maintains the highest teen pregnancy rate known to man. I used to speculate that they only denied kids sex education to ensure a cocktail waitress and stripper workforce for years to come.

According to wire reports, the law defines a homeless person as an indigent "whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive assistance."

American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada lawyer Allen Lichtenstein has been with the ACLU in Las Vegas for years and believe me, his battles are uphill all the way. Lichtenstein says the language makes the Las Vegas law unenforceable, "The ordinance is clearly unconstitutional and nonsensical," he said. "How are you going to know without a financial statement who's poor and who's not poor?"

"It means they can discriminate based on the way people look," Lichtenstein said.

So now, as the homeless and landlocked ranks of "Lost Wages" cook in the stifling heat, they’ll have to keep a watchful eye over their shoulder if someone attempts to practice a random act of kindness by feeding them. I hope people there laugh at the law and take every opportunity to demonstrate that these types of governmental errors aren't right in this country, or anyplace for that matter, and they won't be followed.

Back to that Germany in the 30's thing I always talk about again…

The worst thing though, is that I always thought Stephen King had it all wrong with The Stand, with the way things are stacking up right now, I think he nailed it.

I would be willing to bet that the numbers in the homeless population won't dwindle over this law that doesn't just make feeding hungry people illegal; it demoralizes us as a society to know that our fellow humans could ever aspire to such levels of legislated mistreatment.

I know plenty of people are not sympathetic toward the homeless, but I'll bet that even they would agree that this is a sad day in history.


Comments are Closed on this story.

September 30, 2008 9:25 am (Pacific time)

i think that the american government should open more homes and shelters for homeless people and should put more money into that than tryng to take over iraq

Philip Lundquist June 30, 2008 7:58 pm (Pacific time)

I have been writing for Las Vegas' homeless newspaper ( since it began in mid-2007. I used to hire homeless men, and was the cook for a homeless aid organisation in Vegas. I also have experienced blatantly illegal police activities in response to what I have written and done. Pastor Niemuller was absolutely right about the Nazis - first they came for the marginalised and/or unpopular segments of society, then the leaders of the opposition, then after his silence in the face of it all, they came for him. Do not remain silent. After the next "terrorist attack", they will be coming for you.

Robert B October 8, 2006 4:38 pm (Pacific time)

I understand where you are coming from, because i am a former resident of las vegas who lived and worked at st vincent de pauls. And they treated and judged me to me like everybody ese who either lost all there money or abused drugs or alcohol.And because some ignorant !#¤%and accused me of drinking and st vincents believing it i became quite ill and almost died in feb 2005.

Patricia Scott August 3, 2006 3:13 pm (Pacific time)

I do not agree with the city ordinance against feeding the homeless in parks. However, I also do not think exposing children to used syringes, used condoms, etc. is great either. The City Marshall's office isn't wrong in enforcing the law. If they did otherwise, it would be selctive enforcement and that is the problem we are currently having with the federal government and our borders: they are not enforcing the laws that are on the books. Metro, because of it being an election year and the Undersheriff is running for office, is participating in selective enforcment. What the ACLU is doing is exaqctly what is right. Chasllenge the law and not the public servants that are SOWRN to enforce the laws. Isn't that the same excuse that we hear from our kids: Well, the law is wrong so therefore I gave myself permission to do it anyway?

Pussy Jones August 3, 2006 11:52 am (Pacific time)

In defending the feeding of the homeless the ACLU should cite everyone's right to their unalienable right ot Life. Without many things a person can not have life that they are entitled to...such as food, water, shelter, medicine, and so on. The government has no right to deny anyone any of their basic rights. I am not a lawyer but I could put up a great defense and the Supreme Court would not even overturn when I would win. I hope the ACLU has a good shart lawyer to argue this. Pussy Jones, Las Vegas.

anon July 28, 2006 2:34 pm (Pacific time)

Do you think this only happens in your part of the world, i seen the law enforcement with council officers , go in to towncenters, late at night and round up the homeless poeple, and some with small kids, sleeping in doorways, carparks, alleyways, and put them in to bus's and and trucks and go and dump them in the middle of nowhere, so they are outside the towns limit, what year is this, 1740, 1886, no 2006 how the song go, the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, and you wonder why people are getting more violent when they come up against the law, laws only work if people respect them,

Mary C Las Vegas resident July 25, 2006 5:52 pm (Pacific time)

I intend to give food and drink to anyone who is in need. This law is totally absurd. God help them if any of the powers that be wind up in a homeless situation... Maybe they need to experience it to see what it is really like. Even the bible tells us that if we do it to one of the least of our brothers we are doing it to Christ. And what about the little children who haven't eaten in a week. AND WHAT ABOUT THOSE VETS who gave up their safety so we could have some!! God is large and in Charge.. It's going to be an interesting outcome. I pity those who are on the wrong side of a Big God.

Tim King July 25, 2006 2:25 pm (Pacific time)

Suzie, I understand your point, but food gives a hungry person the ability to think. I do not think a sandwich is a long-term answer, but they might be able to manage themselves better on a full stomach. I eat three times a day and I know I don't perform as well when I have to skip a meal. I have watched so many people hand money to homeless people who will spend it on alcohol, I just never thought we would reach a point where we would try to pursuade people to not feed the poor, it is wrong. Thanks for your other thoughts, I agree for the most part. But once homeless people fail the programs at local missions, they often get the boot or very reduced services. I hope answers like the ones you describe are out there, we are working with all sorts of non-profit groups here in Salem, Oregon and will soon have many resources for homeless people on They can all go online at the local library, so we hope to make a difference with that in the coming weeks. Best luck to you, Tim

Suzee July 25, 2006 1:21 pm (Pacific time)

Tim, you are right that this is a sad day in history. The city council should have been looking for ways to work along with the local shelters and feeding programs instead of simply punishing the do-gooders. We should compassionately assist the needy, while being careful not to become enablers. Homeless individuals ultimately need help addressing the cause of their homelessness, not just the symptom. I have been working with the homeless for 20 years and I can tell you that simply taking a meal to a hungry person is not the best way of helping them. A mentally ill man or woman needs real help, not just a sandwich. Perhaps someone could take them someplace that offers services for their particular need (as well as meals and safe shelter). God knows that living in a homeless camp is not safe. If you and your readers really care about helping the homeless, then I encourage you to research your local agencies. When you find a place that will care for the individual's physical, spiritual and rehabilitation needs by all means support it.

White Horse Jesse July 24, 2006 8:10 pm (Pacific time)

Hey Jesse Red Horse, Your comment got me laughing. I am as sick of you of the lack of saftey nets in this country. I have paid millions in taxes in my life and if for some forsaken reason I went broke, social services would give me a hard time over a jar of peanut butter. It seems in this country you are only worth your past and even if you have paid more than your share, you will still get kicked in the ass if you have financial or health problems. I am in my fifties and it digusts me that I would be called a bum if I went broke after all of the money I have put into the system. What is wrong with this picture?

Biblical Comment II July 24, 2006 7:15 pm (Pacific time)

Proverbs 22: 22 - Rob not the poor [being tempted by their helplessness], neither oppress the afflicted at the gate [where the city court is held].

Biblical comment July 24, 2006 7:09 pm (Pacific time)

Proverbs 19:4 - Wealth makes many friends, but the poor man is avoided by his neighbor.

Erik Pappa July 24, 2006 10:36 am (Pacific time)

What many people do not realize is that the mayor of Las Vegas represents fewer than one-third of the residents of the Las Vegas Valley. Clark County – which is the jurisdiction holding sway over much of the area, including all of the Las Vegas Strip, the airport, the convention center, the university (those areas where the vast majority of tourists frequent) – has no intention of entertaining similar proposals banning the feeding of the homeless. For those of you who take exception to the mayor’s new law, please understand that many of us in the Las Vegas Valley also disagree with the mayor’s position. Addressing homelessness in a meaningful way requires a multifaceted and sustained approach since the needs of homeless individuals are varied. The mayor’s anti-feeding ordinance is not part of Clark County’s or the region’s approach to this complex challenge.

Jesse Red Horse July 24, 2006 7:02 am (Pacific time)

Our Spirit as human beings shall be lost forever if we allow another to dictate when we can help another human being live or starve to death. I realize that the Officials in NV think that this will get their homeless to move on to another place that hadn't outlawed the helping of the poor and mentally ill, not all homeless people are drunken bums. It just goes to show you the level of sin in the shit hole called Los Vegas N.V. OK so maybe the issues run deeper than my simple outrage, but we always tend to do that don't we, we talk an issue into the point that we justify our lack of compassion towards others. Hey Vegas whats next, a bullet to the head if the homless are caught taking food from those who do care. Someone should nuke Los Vegas and do the world a fovor.

Gail Sacco, homeless advocat July 23, 2006 5:35 pm (Pacific time)

Dear Tim, I also want to say Great Writing! Thanks so much for a fantastic piece. I don't get a chance to watch the television news. But found this site from the Google News. Wish the great writers like yourself were allowed to write like this in Las Vegas. Thanks again.

Lyla Bartholomae July 23, 2006 5:07 pm (Pacific time)

Tim, I thank you so much for your thoughtful article. I am one of two women who have been cited for feeding the homeless in Las Vegas BEFORE this ghastly law was passed. Your interest in this country-wide problem and your caring and compassionate writing have helped me recover from a sadness about the state of my city and our country and again I thank you.

Gang Hater July 23, 2006 7:42 am (Pacific time)

Tim, It is sad to say that most people under 40 do not know who Natalie Wood was. She was a very famous actress and very loved. She drowned in 1981 mysteriously. My point is, those that run Vegas and every other city are not the ones who should decide what happens to the weak or rejected people of society. The comment about the "retard" just underscores the lack of compassion that people in power so often exhibit. They do not know what it is like to fall by the wayside. In the case of the "Pig" Goodman, I do not think that Vegas has changed because it is owned by corporations listed on the NYSE. The chief executives may look or speak in a more refined way and have higher levels of education but education and refinement do not equal compassion. Often it just creates self-righteous indifference. Do you remember from "A Christmas Carol," "If they are to die they had better do it and decrease the surplus population," "Are there no prisons, are there no work houses."? This is the attitude of many that have means and through mostly "luck" have been able to escape the worst that can happen in life. Life is a crap shoot. People take credit for things that they have not really earned, like good parents, a supportive family, good looks, intelligence, place of birth etc. These are all random occurences yet people really think that they deserve credit for what they accomplish in life. From the day you are born you are given or not given things. It is amazing that some humans can survive a total lifespan. On the other hand it is not so amazing when you really analyze all that does and does not make a person strong or self-sustaining. It almost sounds like the City Council of Las Vegas would like to have a dog catcher truck and have these people gassed with Zyklon B. The Council should see that they are exactly the same as Hitler or worse yet Stalin. The Council of Las Vegas are cold hearted killers.

Will - Nashville July 22, 2006 3:57 pm (Pacific time)

Great writing, Tim! Thanks for saying what needed to be said about an unbelievable story. If Jesus lived in Vegas today, he'd need a good bail bondsman. If he lived in Vegas and tried that stunt he pulled with the loaves and fishes in Mark chapter 6. He'd surely land in the slammer! Here's hoping some of the local churches engage in a little civil disobedience.

The Prince July 22, 2006 8:58 am (Pacific time)

This is the best darn Website and Newspaper I have ever read. I no longer watch television and do not get anymore of those stupid cable bills for the restricted propaganda put out on the tube. This story about the homeless and the responses on so many of the articles are what Freedom of the Press is all about. Tim, Bonnie, Kevin and the rest of you, keep it up. This is a paper that is trying to expose reality and lets readers and people on the web participate in the process. Don't let anyone try to shut you down. Your approach is the beginning of a new era in revealing TRUTH.

NW_Pilot July 21, 2006 8:22 pm (Pacific time)

Maybe the lawmakers/writers need to see what it's like to be homeless! I know I have been there....Not fun for anyone, I Thank the Las Vegas Community for their generosity and kindness when I lived there as a transient about 11 years ago! I now own my own home, business and would go violate the law! “If I see someone hungry I would bring them food!!!!!!!”

Lela Taylor July 21, 2006 10:43 am (Pacific time)

There are individuals who either through their genetic breakdown, or through mistakes made in life choices, need mental health assistance. Not only in medication but in a safe, up-to-date facility to help the healing process. Why does our government shy away from providing sufficient assistance to those that need this help. Our "band-Aid" methods are not solving the problem of the homeless or mentally ill persons in our country. The public needs educated as to what is going on; so,Tim, keep the information on the facts flowing.

Worldo July 21, 2006 10:41 am (Pacific time)

It is a given that the homeless come from all different backrounds. People are not that stupid. One common denominator about THE homeless is that THE homeless do not have ANYTHING. Sometimes THE homeless do not even have THE judgement to find some social support (which is sometimes nonexistent) from THE system.

Mega July 21, 2006 10:05 am (Pacific time)

Anonymous, While you are obsessing about the word "the" people from all varied backrounds are dying and suffering.."The" Psychiatric Community is an abstraction also but they are not dying. There is no time to waste on discussions. As I write another person has died.

Las Disgusted July 21, 2006 5:32 am (Pacific time)

Go Tim Go, as in Go Team Go. And don't ever let anyone get in your way. I love you!

A.W.M. July 21, 2006 4:49 am (Pacific time)

I am very, very impressed with Tim King's Op-Ed. I am probably twice his age. If he is this bright and talented at writing and deep at his relatively young age......I would love to know him later in his life but I may not be around. Keep it up Tim, you are a candle in the dark!

Anonymous July 21, 2006 4:33 am (Pacific time)

-Many people are not sympathetheic toward "the" homeless.- Perhaps becuse "The" homeless is an abstraction, like "the" Jews, "the" Blacks. Name a "the" not intended to abstract. Impossible. Harold A. Maio Former Consulting Editor Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal Boston University 8955 Forest St Ft Myers FL 33907 239-275-5798 day/night

Hi I.Q. July 21, 2006 4:32 am (Pacific time)

Tim King has shown the hypocrisy and cruelty in the United States. A country were most people in cash businesses have a double set of books and steal from the government every minute of the day. It is easy to pick on the sick, weak, those discarded by society, the mentally ill, people without families to pitch in and the list goes on. I am always disgusted how Americans are quick to forgive a wealthy celebrity or sports figure or politician etc. but not have an ounce of compassion for people who live at the bottom of the economic ladder.

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