NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A controversial law has gone into effect in Tennessee that several people say targets the unhoused.
The law allows law enforcement to fine and potentially arrest anyone sleeping in public places. It would create a misdemeanor for camping under state bridges and overpasses, and a felony for camping on public land, which could lead to 6 years in prison and thousands in fines.
Outreach specialist with Open Table Nashville India Pungarcher said the law is only meant to further criminalize people experiencing homelessness.
In protest of the law, homeless advocates from across the state will come together by having a night of "Action Against Sweeps." At 7 p.m. on Friday, July 1, 2022, activists will meet at Legislative Plaza for a rally and then march down to Riverfront Park to speak out against the law.
Some protesters will set up camp in the park and participate in civil disobedience by staying overnight.
“A felony is a very serious offense. If someone already doesn't have a job or if they are trying to switch jobs with a felony on their record, it's going to be next to impossible to get employment with that charge on record. Likewise, getting into housing with a felony is also next to impossible,” Pungarcher said.
Pungarcher said she doesn't know what to expect from law enforcement, but there will be a safety team present.
She knows Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk said he won’t “prosecute poverty” but doesn’t know what will happen to the unhoused living in other parts of the state.
Howard Allen is also concerned about the new law. Allen was homeless for 17 years and just got into permanent housing at the beginning of the year. He’s concerned for what he calls his brothers and sisters living on the street. He said the areas now protected by law are safe and convenient for the unhoused.
“There are certain months of the year where people attack homelessness. Right now, the political system is attacking homeless people and they don't realize the states are watching Nashville right now to see what they’re doing, which is criminalizing homeless people. Say a prayer because we’re not going anywhere,” Allen explained.
Supporters of the law say think it will prevent public land, like parks, from being overrun or destroyed by people living there. They think it’s a positive step in the right direction to deal with the state’s growing homeless population.