KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Those who are homeless may soon be paying a $50 fine or doing community service if a bill expanding the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012 is signed by Governor Bill Lee. Both the House and Senate have approved the bill.
“It basically allows local governments an enforcement mechanism, if they so choose, to use it for those who are camping on any public property,” State Senator Paul Bailey, who introduced the bill said.
Senate bill 1610 would penalize the homeless for solicitation or camping on public property. Bailey said this type of enforcement is needed in communities across Tennessee.
“Many times, those individuals are coming out of the encampments and taking the resources that are being offered, but there are those that really don’t want to leave those encampments,” he said.
This is what Bailey said will bring about a solution to help the homeless in the state, but others disagree.
“I think it’s a terrible bill,” state representative Gloria Johnson said.
She believes there’s other ways to go about handling homelessness.
“This bill is going to directly target our most vulnerable Tennesseans,” Johnson said. “Let’s find a way to come together and solve this problem like you know, looking at other communities across the country have done. There’s a solution, we just have to make it a priority,” she said.
Marti Baker, the founder of Care Cuts Ministry believes she has that solution.
“We need to treat them with love,” she said. “We don’t need to be chasing them around like they’re a bunch of animals. We need to dig a little deeper and we need to find the answer and I believe that answer is a welcome day center.”
Although Baker agrees with the goal behind the bill, she said after spending hours with the homeless within Knoxville, she believes this idea will be more effective.
“These people are not going to go inside shelters, they’re use to being outside,” Baker said. “These folks can’t keep appointments and they can’t pay fines. So we need another place, we need an alternative.”
Bailey also mentioned that this bill allows for warnings to be given before enforcing a fine or community service and it will be up to local authorities to enforce this bill if it’s signed into law.