Nov. 7 (UPI) -- The Las Vegas City Council has passed a controversial law that bans the city's sizable homeless population from camping or sleeping in public areas -- if there are beds available at shelters.
The council approved the ban 5-2, as part of an effort to stop the proliferation of homeless encampments and encourage the needy to find help at a shelter.
Under the new ordinance, homeless are not allowed to rest, sleep, lie down, use a blanket or camp in public rights of way in downtown or areas adjacent to residential neighborhoods. Violators will be charged with a misdemeanor that could subject them to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
"This is the beginning seed to build something that will flourish," Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who first proposed the law, said. "This is flawed, but it is a start."
"It's a tool to help them get where they need to go and stop the encroachment on downtown residences and downtown businesses, where too many people now sleep and defecate in doorways," added councilor Victoria Seaman.
The ordinance will take effect Sunday and authorities will begin enforcement in February.
Activists opposed the law outside city hall Wednesday, chanting, "If we don't get no justice, you don't get no peace!"
Opponents denounce the ban as inhumane and costly and say it ignores the root of the homeless problem.
"This is the most disgusting and embarrassing policy I have ever seen," Battle Born Progress Executive Director Annette Magnus told the council.
Opponents have called for longer-term solutions, such as affordable housing, mental healthcare and addiction treatment.
Attorney Pauline Ng Lee called the law a "practical first step" toward protecting and helping Las Vegas' homeless population, which is one of the largest in the United States.