Senate Passes Bill that Would Criminalize Camping on Public Property

CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) — Today, the Tennessee State Senate passed Senate Bill 1610, which would make it a felony to camp on public property.

Critics of the bill have said that it would essentially criminalize homelessness.

State Senator Frank Nicely, who voted in favor of the bill, made the following comment, invoking the name of Adolf Hitler:

“In 19 and 10, Hitler decided to live on the streets for a while. So, for two years, Hitler lived on the streets and practiced his oratory and body language and how to connect with the masses and then went on to lead a life that got him in the history books. So, for a lot of these people, it’s not a dead end,” said Nicely.

Chattanooga Homeless Coalition Director Wendy Winters says the legislature ought to focus on supportive housing.

“A lot of people don’t realize that Chattanooga does not have a year-round low-barrier shelter. there’s not a lot of options for folks, so, you know, if they’re being criminalized for camping on public property, I mean, it is what it is — they don’t have anywhere else to go,” said Winters.

Chattanooga Director of Homelessness and Supportive Housing Sam Wolfe did not take a position on the legislation, but he said the city is making efforts to establish supportive housing for the homeless.

“Ninety-one percent of the people we house with our local response system stay housed, with those supportive services, and so really that’s where we’re wanting to come in and make those reductions,” said Wolfe.

The bill leaves it to the discretion of law enforcement officers to penalize those camped on public property.

The bill now goes to the House for further consideration.

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