LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The Las Vegas City Council meeting got off to a contentious start Wednesday with protesters chanting “The war on poor has got to go.” When council members couldn’t get the crowd to quiet down a recess was called and the meeting restarted about 10 minutes later.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman gave the crowd a stern warning saying those who continued to interrupt the meeting would be removed.

The city council is hearing public testimony on a controversial proposed ordinance that supporters say is designed to help the valley’s homeless. But homeless advocates argue it’s inhumane and likely illegal.

It’s estimated there are around 5,000 people in the valley who are homeless.

The city is considering an ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor to camp or sleep in certain public areas, such as sidewalks in the city limits. A misdemeanor carries a fine of up to $1,000 or up to six months in jail. It would only be enforced if there is space at local shelters.

Mayor Goodman says it’s designed to encourage people to seek help from the city’s resource centers. The city is also trying to deal with hygiene and sanitation issues.

 Goodman believes the ordinance would benefit the homeless population while protecting the health and safety of the entire community. 

However, there’s backlash from critics, including the ACLU of Nevada.

“We find it to be quite inhumane and too punitive in its approach. We think that they need to stop and they need to start over and go back to a regional approach. They need to consider what other jurisdictions are doing,” said Tod Story, executive director, ACLU of Nevada.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty sent council members a letter on Monday.

It says, in part, quote:

“The city of Las Vegas may be pursuing ineffective, expensive, and likely illegal punishment strategies rather than constructive solutions…”

National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty

The city has an online blog with more information about the ordinance, which is up for discussion at 9 a.m. at the city council.