Don’t Criminalize the Houseless

Target: Bill Lee, Tennessee Governor

Goal: Repeal new anti-homeless law and protect unhoused community members.

On July 1, 2022, Tennessee enacted new legislation criminalizing the unhoused. The law, which passed without the governor’s signature, expands the places people can receive felony charges for camping. This legislation joins a growing list of laws passed or proposed by states which target houseless individuals.

The new law, formally called SB 1610, makes it a felony “for a person to engage in camping on the shoulder, berm, or right of way of a state or interstate highway, under a bridge or overpass or within an underpass, of a state or interstate highway.” The bill also seeks to make camping in local government lands a felony. It is important to note that “camping,” when used in these anti-houseless laws, refers simply to sleeping – with or without accompanying belongings.  Four US states have bans on camping and 15 more have laws which restricting camping in various public areas, according to Contributor. The publication also writes that a 2019 survey found out of 187 cities surveyed, 72% had a minimum of on law criminalizing camping in public areas.

As Contributor editor Amanda Haggard writes, “Despite a lack of affordable housing and shelter space, governments have chosen to threaten, arrest, and ticket homeless persons for performing life-sustaining activities — such as sleeping or sitting down — in outdoor public space.” Anti-houseless legislation like this does nothing to address the root causes of houselessness or to provide relief for some of our most vulnerable community members. In fact, policies which criminalize being unhoused can actively make it more difficult to break out of a cycle of houselessness by imposing criminal charges and steep financial burdens through high ticket costs. Sign this petition to demand Tennessee’s Governor does whatever he can to repeal this law and help the state’s houseless population.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Governor Lee,

Tennessee recently passed SB 1610 – legislation which makes it a felony to camp in certain public areas in your state. This bill is a recent addition to a string of anti-houseless laws to be implemented in the United States.

Legislation like this does nothing to address the root causes of houselessness or provide relief for some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable community members. In fact, laws like SB 1610 can actively make it more difficult for the unhoused to find lasting jobs and shelter. Anti-houseless legislation imposes criminal charges – in the case of your state, felony charges – against people who are only trying to survive. These charges can make it more difficult to obtain work or assistance in the future. SB 1610 will not help the houseless or create meaningful change, you must do everything in your power to repeal this law and protect Tennessee’s unhoused population.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Matthew Woitunski


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