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Metro homeless outreach workers making more visits to encampments after public camping law takes effect

On July 1, Tennessee made camping on posted state property a Class E felony
Posted at 3:41 PM, Jul 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-26 19:24:22-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — Sleeping on state property can end with you waking up in handcuffs in Tennessee.

While Nashville doesn't have housing for everyone, outreach workers say an arrest could make things harder on the unhoused population.

"The first initial announcement of the law, the anxiety that was felt that they were going to do a clean-sweep arrest on the street... we had to get that education piece out there," said Jay Servais, interim director at Metro Homeless Impact Division.

Around the city of Nashville, outreach workers are increasing their regular checks on people experiencing homelessness. They want to get people signed up for housing before they get in trouble.

"Last Friday I came out here and the officers were here," said Cherri Godwin, a Metro outreach worker. "They were warning everyone that the law had come into effect and they can't be here from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. So this is very critical for us trying to find somewhere for them to go."

A homeless encampment on Green Street that abuts Interstate 24 is on state property. Outreach workers visited the camp on Tuesday to ask people what's keeping them out of housing.

"Sometimes it's as easy as getting the first and last month's rent paid. Those are the things we're looking for. Some people have a lot of barriers in their way, whether it's a criminal history, addiction or mental issue. Not only [visiting] to find [people] housing, but the services makes this successful," Servais said.

homeless on state property

The new law makes soliciting or camping on state property a Class C misdemeanor. First-time offenders get a warning while a second or subsequent offense carries a $50 fine and a community service sentence. It's now a Class E felony to set up or sleep on posted state property. That carries a one to six year prison sentence.