Advocates for homeless communities criticize bill that criminalizes homeless camps

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Posted at 6:51 AM, Apr 02, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Organizations that work with people experiencing homelessness say a bill at the State Capital would criminalize homelessness and make it more difficult for struggling people to get permanent housing.

House Bill 978 would make it a crime for people experiencing homelessness to camp in any public places, and offenders could be fined $50 or required to do community service.

"The people that this bill would impact are already incredibly poor, they are economically disenfranchised, so to then put court fees and service fees on them is too much," Open Table Nashville's Lindsey Krinks said. "These petty things, just sleeping outside on state property or public property, can keep people in cycles of poverty for years to come."

Krinks said the bill comes as the pandemic has pushed more people into homelessness.

"In the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of the eviction crisis, some of our lawmakers are busy trying to make homelessness a crime," she said.

"The intent is not to criminalize homelessness," Cookeville Republican Rep. Ryan Williams, who sponsors the bill, said during a committee meeting this week. "We need them to be able to go to the Cookeville Rescue Mission or somewhere other than this homeless camp, so we cant force them to do that but we can keep them from camping on city or county property."