Has Tennessee's legislature passed a law that criminalizes homelessness?

Thursday, April 21, 2022
By Brian A. Gross

A Republican-led effort in Tennessee would effectively make it illegal for homeless people to sleep outside.  

The bill, which has passed the state House and Senate and is awaiting the governor's signature, makes it a misdemeanor to camp on highways and a felony to camp on any type of public property not designated for camping.

After an initial warning, the bill makes highway camping punishable by either a $50 fine or 20 to 40 hours of community service. The felony offense could entail jail time, a $3,000 fine and the loss of voting rights.

Homelessness has become increasingly criminalized in recent years: between 2006 and 2019, bans on camping have risen by 92%, sitting or lying by 78%, living in vehicles by 213% and loitering and panhandling by 103%, according to the National Homelessness Law Center.

Vagrancy laws criminalizing homelessness in America date back to the colonial era.

This fact brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.
Tennessee General Assembly HB0978 Bill Summary
National Low Income Housing Coalition Criminalization of Homelessness
Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History United States Vagrancy Laws
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