This article is from Tennessee/Lookout.
Legislation set to be heard in the General Assembly would enable local governments to establish homeless camps and order residents to mental health treatment.
State Rep. Ryan Williams said Tuesday he came up with the idea in part because people didn’t like the measure he sponsored last year allowing police to arrest people for camping on public property. Gov. Bill Lee signed that legislation into law, making Tennessee the nation’s first state to make sleeping on public property a crime.
Williams’ new legislation, House Bill 1192, would allow the Tennessee Housing Development Agency to direct funds to local governments for “secure” homeless encampments and create a process for sending people to court-ordered mental health treatment. Williams said federal money would be used to set up the camps.
Once there, a mentally ill person could be “judicially committed to involuntary care and treatment in a hospital or treatment resource, or to assisted outpatient treatment.” Treatment also could be ordered for those who show a “substantial likelihood of serious harm” or a condition likely to deteriorate rapidly.
A person eventually could be discharged from treatment and receive outpatient care, including psychotherapy, medication or day treatment.
The Cookeville Republican said he put the bill on notice, and it could be heard Wednesday in a House Property and Planning Subcommittee. The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, who carried the homeless camping bill last year with Williams.
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Nashville Democrat, raised questions about the bill Tuesday, saying it would be one thing to use federal funds and state grants to construct housing for the homeless while providing mental health treatment but quite another to set up secure homeless encampments.
“If we’re not gonna improve their quality of life in any way other than trying to segregate them into a designated camp, that’s concerning on multiple levels,” said Clemmons, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Clemmons said the details of the bill would be critical and wondered whether local governments would be picking up homeless people and taking them to a certain location.
According to the legislation, federal funds could not be used to construct a permanent building, but an agency could build, maintain and fund a “sanctioned” campsite for people who lack a stable home. The campsites would have to be “secure” and provide access to electricity, water, showers and restrooms.
People would be limited to no more than two consecutive years unless they have “extenuating circumstances.” A public or private operator would not be liable for actions of residents except in cases of “gross negligence,” according to the legislation.
The operator also would be able to contract with vendors for substance abuse and mental health treatment and then go to the courts to have people committed.
The state agency would “prioritize” awards to counties with an above-average number of homeless people based on the most recent census.
_ Sam Stockard