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Homelessness a 'Symptom of Greed' by the Rich, Says Bernie Sanders, Not a Crime by the Poor

2020 candidate weighs in on Las Vegas, Nevada ordinance that would fine or jail people for sleeping on streets

A homeless man sits on a bench in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 20, 2016. (Photo: Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday condemned a proposed ordinance in Las Vegas, Nevada that would effectively criminalize homelessness in the city by making it illegal for people to sleep on sidewalks and in other public areas.

"Homelessness isn't a crime, it's a symptom of the greed that is destroying housing in America," Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement.

"We are in the middle of a national housing crisis, with Nevada having the greatest shortage of affordable housing for the lowest income earners, while the wealthiest have it all."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

The Las Vegas City Council is set to begin debating the ordinance on Wednesday amid widespread opposition from affordable housing advocates and civil liberties groups. The Sanders campaign said it plans to use its massive email list to drive turn-out to a rally outside Las Vegas City Hall as city councilmembers discuss the measure.

"We are in the middle of a national housing crisis, with Nevada having the greatest shortage of affordable housing for the lowest income earners, while the wealthiest have it all," said Sanders. "That has got to change. When we are in the White House, we will stop the criminalization of homelessness and spend nearly $32 billion over five years to end homelessness once and for all."

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NBC News reported that the ordinance, drafted in September, would "make it a misdemeanor to rest, sleep, or 'lodge' in Las Vegas' downtown district and other residential areas if shelter beds are available. Those found in violation could be fined up to $1,000 or jailed for up to six months."

Nevada State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, a Democrat, called the measure "short-sighted and inhumane" in a series of tweets Tuesday.

"The city says the ordinance will only be used when there aren't enough shelter beds and people are found sleeping on spaces like sidewalks. SPOILER ALERT: There are never enough beds," said Cancela. "The ordinance criminalizing poverty has massive community opposition, there's data that shows this doesn't work, and there's reason to believe this hurts better solutions. Seems to me like this is clearly bad policy."

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