Tri-Cities homeless advocates say bill is out of touch | WJHL

(WJHL) — A homelessness bill is set for a vote in Tennessee House Monday night after passing the Senate last week.

The law project would make it a crime to camp or sleep on public property without permission.

“The bill that was passed in 2012 says it’s a class C misdemeanor to camp on state property,” said bill co-sponsor Tim Hicks (R-Gray) . “So it basically adds to county and city ownership.”

It also prohibits people from soliciting or camping on bridges, overpasses and underpasses.

“It’s a matter of security. They tend to camp in lots of places, on our rights-of-way, and if you notice it’s off our highways because it’s public property, it’s county or city-owned,” Hicks said. “They can’t camp on anything right now that belongs to the state. But, usually, when they are so close to the highway, we have fatalities due to this issue.

Hicks says the bill would increase interactions between law enforcement and homeless people, which could translate into help for those in need.

“This bill allows people, law enforcement, to go up to someone and tell them they are breaking the law. The first time will be a warning, tell them they are breaking the law, they can’t camp here and offer help. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do with this bill,” Hicks said. “If we sit back and do nothing about this problem and wait for homeless people to take care of themselves, it will continue to get worse. It is a tool that our cities and counties can use to get help from these people. »

However, people who help the homeless oppose the bill.

“You know we’re in the Bible Belt and you’d think we wouldn’t have these kinds of problems,” said Shades of Grace lay leader Steve Wells at Kingsport.

Advocacy groups and churches like Shades of Grace say the bill is out of touch.

“If you’re going to sit here and complain about them and put these restrictions on them, you should have an answer for them,” Wells said. “You should have a place for them.”

Mark, a man who has lived under a bridge in Kingsport for 10 months, believes the vulnerability of the homeless is what makes people like him easy targets.

“You can hit a person and keep kicking and kicking them. But don’t do that you know. Life is precious,” Mark said.

In churches where the homeless are being fed, the bill doesn’t even pass the test of logic according to leaders.

“Thinking you’re going to get $50 from them to sleep in a public place is unrealistic and the jails are already overrun and full so how is that going to work out,” said Will Shewey, the pastor of Shades of Grace.

But Rep. Hicks says another important part of the bill is the community service option.

“The bill also says ‘or community service’ and that’s the key to the bill. It’s hard for law enforcement to get help from these people unless you start contacting them,” Hicks said. “That’s really what this bill is about. I think it is a good bill. I think it’s something that has to happen because in Tennessee it’s getting worse.

The House is due to discuss and vote on the bill Monday evening. If adopted, he would go to Governor Bill Lee’s office.

About Maria Hunter

Check Also

A tennis tournament in memory of the late coach Robert Logan scheduled for Saturday

The Robert Logan Tennis Invitational can be an emotional time for some, including coaches. The …