Las Vegas crackdown on homeless in parks leads to arrests, tickets

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Editor’s note: On Nov. 20, U.S. District Judge Robert Jones rejected the city’s ban on feeding poor or homeless people in city parks. Jones issued an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the ordinance and told lawyers for the city and the ACLU of Nevada that he intended to issue an order killing the measure. No date was set for final action. The lawsuit, filed Aug. 2 on behalf of five activists and the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, claimed the statute violated constitutional rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, free assembly, due process of law and equal protection under the law.

LAS VEGAS — City marshals blocked a radio personality from feeding homeless
people at a City Hall park yesterday, and issued summonses to a television news
crew covering a publicity protest against a ban on “mobile soup kitchens.”

Three people were arrested and seven were issued summonses at two parks, city
officials said, including a reporter and a cameraman ticketed for trespassing
while covering the protest for KLAS-TV, the CBS affiliate in Las Vegas.

Beth Monk, a KKLZ-FM radio morning show personality, became the first person
to receive a summons under a new city law that makes feeding the homeless a
misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $1,000 and six months in jail.

“The idea was to go out there and show the mayor this ordinance makes no
sense whatsoever,” said Monk, 24, a traffic reporter and radio comedy team
sidekick who has engaged in publicity stunts including mud wrestling on the

Monk said city marshals confiscated food and water she set on a cement wall
at Frank Wright Park — a patch of green wedged between a downtown bus terminal,
a historic post office building and Las Vegas City Hall. She was threatened with
arrest if she did not leave.

“I think right now everyone’s realizing how outrageous this is,” Monk said in
a telephone interview.

One person was arrested yesterday at Frank Wright Park for trespassing before
the park opened at 7 a.m., the Las Vegas Reivew-Journal reported. Two
people also were arrested for the same violation at Huntridge Circle Park, city
spokesman Jace Radke said. Huntridge is an urban park several blocks east of
downtown where city officials first acted against so-called soup kitchen meals
for homeless people.

“The ordinance makes it illegal to run mobile soup kitchens or feed the
homeless in city parks,” Radke said. “Marshals are going to enforce the

Bob Stoldal, vice president of news for KLAS, said he had not decided whether
to fight trespassing summonses issued to reporter Kyla Grogan and
photojournalist Jorge Montez.

“We’re going to continue to cover the story very aggressively at all public
parks,” Stoldal said.

The staged protest came less than two weeks after the Las Vegas City Council
passed a law criminalizing charity in parks, and a month after the city began
rounding up homeless people for 72-hour mental health evaluations.

Officials, led by Mayor Oscar Goodman, say they want a long-term solution to
homelessness rather than stopgap measures in a city with limited resources for
those living on the streets.

“Rather than giving someone a sandwich once a day, the city supports efforts
to end the cycle of homelessness and address the issues that keep these
individuals on the streets,” the mayor’s office said in a statement yesterday.
It calls for the homeless to seek aid at social service agencies.

Activists and civil libertarians called the crackdown unfair and

“They are treating people in public spaces in a way that is inconsistent with
the First Amendment and our nation’s history,” said Lee Rowland, American Civil
Liberties Union of Nevada public advocate in Las Vegas. She promised a lawsuit
challenging the city law.

“Let’s hope what’s happening to the First Amendment right now in Las Vegas
stays in Las Vegas,” said First Amendment Center ombudsman Paul K.

Linda Lera-Randel El, longtime executive director of Straight from the
Streets, a Las Vegas area homeless advocacy group, said she distributed water,
sandwiches and bus tokens at the City Hall park yesterday, but was not issued a

“I’m not saying feeding people in the park is the answer,” she said. “But I
don’t think people in power can just pass an ordinance every time they don’t
like something or they’re frustrated by the inability to fix it.”