Is it Legal to Feed the Homeless in Las Vegas?

While the homeless population in Las Vegas, Nevada and beyond has several needs that need to be met according to studies, access to food is not one of them. There are several nonprofit and social service organizations in or around downtown Las Vegas that focus on helping the homeless. These include Salvation Army Southern Nevada, Las Vegas Rescue Mission, and Catholic Charities, to name a few. The homeless can go to any one of these organization all day, every day, to receive free meals.

Good Samaritans, Bad Results

That being said, many well-meaning Las Vegas residents spend their weekends handing out food and other items to the homeless, according to local authorities. Often times, this food gets thrown in the streets and becomes more of a burden than a blessing. For this reason, the City of Las Vegas has created public service announcements with the help of organizations such as the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities to inform people about the unintended consequences of street feeding. This includes attracting rodents, pigeons, and other pests to the rotting food. Beyond food, unwanted clothing also gets left on the streets.

Not Illegal, But Not Welcomed

While it is not technically illegal to pass out food and other items to the homeless in Las Vegas, you can be ticketed for parking in a red zone while you are trying to help out. While most local authorities do not issue these tickets, which can cost a few hundred dollars, they often use the opportunity to educate the public about the consequences of street feeding the homeless. Sometimes, fights breakout over items that are passed out by do-gooders. Because some people who fall into homelessness do so because of mental illness or addition to drugs and/or alcohol, good Samaritans passing out items could be putting themselves in harm’s way.

Food as Free Speech

Nevada is not the only state, and Las Vegas is not the only city, dealing with the issue in the country. A recent appellate court decision in Florida addressed the issue of feeding the public by ruling against the City of Fort Lauderdale. The city has gotten bad press on its stance against feeding the public, particularly when a 2014 video circulated in which a 90-year-old chef and two ministers were arrested by police officers for simply trying to share food with the homeless. The case, Food Not Bombs vs. City of Fort Lauderdale, held that the organization’s feeding of the homeless is expressive conduct. The organization, which protests war and poverty, sued the city for requiring a permit to share food in public parks.

Legal Help in Las Vegas

If you or someone you know has questions about feeding the homeless in Las Vegas, or any other legal question, contact the skilled Nevada attorneys at Parry & Pfau today. We can help guide you through the complex legal system and obtain a just result for you.

(image courtesy of Steve Knutson)