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Tennessee legislators to resume debate on bill that aims to fine people living on public streets

Homeless advocates say this will only make things worse for people who are already in desperate situations.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A 2021 bill that aimed to stop people from camping out on public property could be taken up in the Tennessee legislature again this year.

A version of the bill, HB0978, passed in the house last year but failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill was scheduled to be heard in the same committee Tuesday.

If passed, it would create a misdemeanor offense punishable by a $50 fine and community service work for solicitation or camping along a controlled-access highway or entrance or exit ramp.

It would also make it against the law for a person to camp under a bridge or overpass, or within an underpass of a state or interstate highway.

The offense of unauthorized camping would also apply to all public property across the state.

Homeless advocates said this will only make things worse for people who are already in desperate situations. Misdemeanor charges can be used to deny people employment opportunities and private housing units, even if they have received a Section 8 voucher.

“If our state legislators really want to help, they will put their efforts into ensuring that the poorest among us can access affordable housing and health care,” said Lindsay Krinks, co-founder of Open Table. “Handcuffs, citations, and fines can’t heal. This bill does nothing to break the cycles of poverty”

According to the national low-income housing coalition, nearly one-third of all Tennessee renters qualify as extremely low income, and there is currently a shortage of at least 100,000 affordable homes.

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