Protesters rally against anti-camping law

Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 7:42 AM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A new law places a fine and makes it a felony to camp on public property anywhere in the state of Tennessee.

Homeless advocates marched from Legislative Plaza to Riverfront Park where they will sleep out on the public property with the intention of being arrested.

Those with Open Table Nashville say they want to challenge the law in court and prove it is not constitutional law.

They say it violates human rights and public land should be for public use.

Open table Nashville says renters don’t want to rent to people with felonies on their records.

“It’s going to prevent people from getting housing eventually. Once they’re out of jail they’re not going to be able to get housing for years to come and then it’s just a cycle,” said Claire Hennigan of Open Table Nashville. “They’re going to keep getting arrested because they’re going to need somewhere to be, they’re going to need somewhere to go.”

On Friday night WSMV 4 was at Commerce Center Park right off of Broadway where people will spend the night in defiance of the state’s no-camping law.

The protest started at Legislative Plaza and then everyone marched down Broadway around 8 p.m. The march cleared Broadway on the busy holiday weekend.

One woman who is homeless said the law is unjust.

“This is public property,” said Misty Cox, a woman experiencing homelessness. “We should be able to sleep wherever we see fit and not be berated and have our items taken from us.”

The protesters will be illegally spending the night there and members of the Open Tables Team will be there to protect them.

One man said that giving homeless people felonies for sleeping outside will just make it harder for them to get jobs and housing.

“I am here to speak up for the rights of the people not being heard,” said Terry Warren, a man experiencing homelessness. I know what it’s like being homeless because like I said I stayed under the Jefferson Street Bridge.”

The protester will be there all night will have breakfast on Saturday morning to wrap up.

It remains unclear how the law will be enforced. Rep. (D) John Ray Clemmons asked that question during the General Assembly.

“Why are we making it, essentially, a felony to be homeless or encamped anywhere else on public property?”

The answer from Rep. (R) Ryan Williams is one of protection for neighborhoods.

“We’re not making it a felony to be homeless; we’re making it a felony to camp on public property,” explained Rep. Williams. “Currently the state statute it says that it is a felony to camp on state property. This just extends it to your local community.”

On the senate side, bill sponsor senator bailey says this bill focuses on public safety and human dignity. Proponents of the bill believe allowing individuals to sleep under bridges and near roadways is not compassionate.

A spokesperson with the Metro Homeless Impact Division said they recently finalized a coordinated plan with state and local authorities.

Once the police are called to a public camping situation, the Homeless Impact Division will be notified and will assist the homeless person(s) in finding a place to stay and not face a felony.

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