An ordinance has been passed by the Las Vegas city council making it illegal for people to sleep or camp on the streets or sidewalks.

The controversial ban, which was panned by critics saying it would unfairly criminalize the homeless, was approved by a 5-2 vote, making it illegal to "rest, sleep or lodge” in Las Vegas’ downtown district and other residential areas if shelter beds are available.

Under the new ordinance, violators will be fined up to $1000 or will spend up to 6 months behind bars with a misdemeanor crime. The ordinance will be in effect from Sunday, Nov. 10, and the criminal provision will be in effect from Feb.1.

According to officials, the ban is an effort to take homeless people and their camps, which have been on the rise in Las Vegas increasing public health and safety risks, off the roads and force them to accept help and seek shelter. The ban will also help protect businesses and residents whose properties are negatively impacted by such camps.

However, opposers have argued that the law criminalizes the most vulnerable people keeping in mind the business interests of a select few. 

“There is very significant research and data that will confirm that public safety and criminal justice systems are the most expensive course of action for working with individuals affected by homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse,” council member Brian Knudsen told NBC news. Knudsen, who represents Ward-1, had voted against the ordinance.

“As a good steward of tax dollars, there are other paths that are more responsible for providing services while protecting the tax-paying public’s interests," he said.

The opponents of the bill have called for a long-term solution like an increase in affordable housing,  boosting treatment and support centers for mental health and substance addiction. The bill was also opposed by Democratic Presidential candidates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Gabrielle D’Ayr, a U.S. Navy veteran, who said she had faced homelessness in the past told Las Vegas Review-Journal, “We need to have all the government agencies that already exist and the charitable organizations to work collaboratively. If we want to protect and serve our citizens, we protect and serve all of them … These are people, they have names, they have faces, they have stories, they have lives.”

Bypassing the ordinance, Las Vegas has become part of at least 160 cities across the United States, including Los Angeles and New York, which had earlier passed similar laws. 

City officials said that despite the shortcomings in funding, a long-term solution was on the cards. 

Mayor Carolyn Goodman who supported the ordinance said that it was a “beginning seed to build something that will flourish.” She added that though the ordinance was flawed it started for something better. 

This handout video frame grab from the Los Angeles Police Department shows a homeless woman singing opera in the Los Angeles metro on September 26, 2019 This handout video frame grab from the Los Angeles Police Department shows a homeless woman singing opera in the Los Angeles metro on September 26, 2019 Photo: AFP / Los Angeles Police Department