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Monday November 30th, 2020 12:32PM

Las Vegas homeless sweep causes stir

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LAS VEGAS - Tawana James was among the last of 175 squatters forced to leave when police arrived to clear a homeless settlement. <br> <br> The 27-year-old Chicago native picked up her stuff, moved about a half-mile away and pitched her makeshift home of blankets and plastic sheeting on property owned by the state. <br> <br> ``But it&#39;s just for a couple of days,&#39;&#39; she said. ``Then what?&#39;&#39; <br> <br> James and others have few answers as they find themselves in the middle of the long-running battle over a growing homeless population in Las Vegas, a city known better for its high rollers than homeless. <br> <br> ``There is no endgame,&#39;&#39; said Mayor Oscar Goodman. ``The homeless say they eat pretty good here and that nobody bothers them. Well, I&#39;m going to bother them.&#39;&#39; <br> <br> Goodman insisted Monday that because accumulated filth and human waste threatened to contaminate deliveries to a nearby dairy plant, the city had to move James and others off a sidewalk where they set up camp after the last large-scale city sweep in May. <br> <br> ``Do you eat ice cream? Cottage cheese? Do you take milk in your coffee? We had an immediate health problem that would undermine this city, this county and this state,&#39;&#39; Goodman said. <br> <br> The latest sweep involved an encampment at Foremaster Lane and Main Street, just north of downtown and far from where tourists stroll and gamble on the Strip. <br> <br> The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday accused Goodman and Las Vegas of subtly denying services and harassing the homeless to force them to leave town. <br> <br> ``This is the ugly underside of Las Vegas that our leaders don&#39;t want the rest of the world to see,&#39;&#39; said Gary Peck, executive director of the local ACLU chapter. ``It is clear there are more homeless people than the number of beds available, by a lot.&#39;&#39; <br> <br> Peck, ACLU lawyer Allen Lichtenstein and Lichtenstein&#39;s 16-year-old daughter received trespassing warnings during Sunday&#39;s pre-dawn sweeps when they tried to intervene. <br> <br> ``If the public doesn&#39;t care, they&#39;ll get away with it,&#39;&#39; said Allen Lichtenstein, who on Friday was denied a bid for a federal court injunction stopping the sweep. <br> <br> Goodman guaranteed that any homeless person wanting a bed and help to clean up their lives in his town could get it. He called the sweep ``a stopgap measure&#39;&#39; until recommendations from an interagency Homeless Task Force can be implemented. <br> <br> A 1999 University of Nevada at Las Vegas study found 6,700 homeless people in the Las Vegas area, but only 1,212 shelter beds. <br> <br> Since then, one shelter closed for construction but is expected to open with 900 beds in July. Others have cut services. <br> <br> ``There&#39;s not enough beds in this town for the homeless people,&#39;&#39; said Terry Ryder, president of the Key Foundation, a veterans&#39; assistance program. <br> <br> The mayor reported that police handed out 15 vouchers Sunday night to people at the former encampment, but none of those displaced apparently went to a homeless services tent that houses 250 people. A city survey found 33 open beds at a women-only shelter and 24 open beds at a $5 per night Catholic Charities shelter with strict rules. <br> <br> Last summer, a federal judge allowed police to evict dozens of homeless in a tent city near the Union Pacific tracks in North Las Vegas. The City Council also agreed to beef up police patrols in the area. <br> <br> Last year, Goodman apologized to Salt Lake City officials after accusing them of giving their homeless bus tickets to Las Vegas. He also was accused of being insensitive after he suggested rounding up the city&#39;s homeless and busing them to an abandoned prison 30 miles away. <br> <br> Dave Coon, vice president at Anderson Dairy Inc., southern Nevada&#39;s only milk processing plant, praised Goodman and local City Councilman Lawrence Weekly for intervening to avert contamination or an accident. <br> <br> ``We think they did the right thing,&#39;&#39; Coon said. ``Obviously we&#39;re concerned about sanitation in our industry. (The homeless) were using the sidewalks as a public bathroom. And we are very fortunate no one was harmed by one of our large dairy tankers.&#39;&#39; <br> <br> ``Anybody got a bus ticket? I&#39;m out of here,&#39;&#39; said Ronald Mays, 39, a homeless man from New York who said he&#39;s been trying to enroll in a drug treatment program, but has been turned away. <br> <br> ``They talk like they want to help you, but there&#39;s all this drama out here,&#39;&#39; he said.
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