Senate Bill 1610 was written to make homeless camping on ALL public property a felony offense. It is likely that if passed this bill will be challenged in the courts as the Supreme Court has previously ruled that being homeless is not a crime. Here is my testimony before the TN Senate Judiciary Committee:
Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee,
My name is Jay Voorhees I am the pastor of the City Road Chapel United Methodist Church in Madison, TN, a church that believes that Jesus was serious For our church, those neighbors include numerous homeless folks who come to our church to experience God’s love.
There is a phrase that comes to mind for me as I look over the bill under consideration today: “Out of sight, out of mind.” More often than not I’ve heard those words as a justification for avoiding things that make us uncomfortable. That can be those things we hide in the closet to avoid cleaning the house. They can also be the problems and ills of the world we live in – like mental illness, addiction, and homelessness. Honestly, the plight of others makes us uncomfortable for we are confronted with our own fear of those who aren’t like us. So, it’s easier to try and move those who threaten our comfort out of sight in the belief that if we don’t see them, they don’t exist.
But, they DO exist – whether we see them or not, meaning we, as citizens of our state, are forced to recognize that there are people just like us who have no place to lay their heads. As yet, there are not enough state, city, or non-profit resources to help them find the stability and community that the rest of us see as normal.
SB1610, in my opinion, buys into the myth that moving homeless persons out of sight through criminalizing their presence on public property will somehow fix the problem of homelessness in our state. And yet, these folks won’t disappear through some magic trick of a bill that says they aren’t wanted. They will still exist – and many will end up in our jails and prisons costing us more money if this bill is passed simply for the sin of being poor.
There are two questions for me as I look and this bill. The first is where are folks to go when there is no plae left to go? Private land, for the most part, is unavailable to them. They are tax-paying citizens of our state, who end up in places owned by all of the public, believing that they have a right to be in that place.
The other question is “What problem are we trying to solve here?” Are we trying to solve homelessness? Or are we trying to hide it in the closet?
There are certainly issues regarding homelessness that this body should address, such as the failure of our mental health system to provide care for those struggling to care for themselves, or how to increase the number of options available in our state for addiction treatment.
But those topics are not the point of this bill.
This bill is about out of sight, out of mind, removing those things that make us uncomfortable when we drive by them on our way home.
And if it passes, we should all know that the problem won’t go away. The closet gets fuller and fuller until it bursts open and we’re confronted with the same problems that have been there all along.
Senators, I urge you to reject this bill and begin looking for real solutions that will end homelessness in our state.
The Judiciary Committee voted 7-2 to move this bill to a full vote by the Senate