Friday, August 24, 2007

Federal Judge Strikes Down Vegas' Ban on Homeless Food Sharings

Vegas Ban on Feeding Homeless Struck

By Associated Press
8:10 PM EDT, August 23, 2007

LAS VEGAS - A federal judge permanently barred the city from preventing people from feeding the homeless in parks, but upheld some other park restrictions that critics targeted as equally unfair.

The ruling Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Robert Jones allows the city to continue to enforce other laws, including trespassing laws, permit requirements for park gatherings of more than 25 people and the right to designate certain park areas for children's use only.

Jones ruled that the plaintiffs had not met the burden of showing that the laws showed a discriminatory intent.

"The City has a significant government interest in protecting children and providing public parks for their safe enjoyment," Jones wrote.

The ruling is the latest development in a 14-month-old federal court battle between the city and civil liberties and homeless advocates.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he plans to appeal.

City Attorney Brad Jerbic said the ruling affirms the city's position that the trespassing ordinances were solely intended to discourage criminal behavior in parks. One ordinance allows marshals to ban individuals from parks if they commit crimes on city property.

"It never had to do with being homeless; it had to do with conduct," Jerbic said.

Homeless advocate Gail Sacco [of Las Vegas Food Not Bombs], a plaintiff in the case who frequently hands out food and water in parks, said she is glad the ordinance prohibiting that was permanently blocked. But she is concerned about the law requiring permits for large gatherings because it's hard to predict how many people will show up when she is at a park.

"We aren't doing this to be arrogant," Sacco said. "We go where people are hungry. The food is a way to build a sense of community."

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