Please take one minute to send the email below to let TN state legislators know that homelessness is not a crime!

HB0978/SB1610 would make solicitation or camping “on the shoulder, berm, or right-of-way of a state or interstate highway or under a bridge or overpass” a class C misdemeanor offense punishable by a $50 fine and community service work. It would also broaden the language within the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012 so that people could be prosecuted not only on state property, but also on all public property across Tennessee.

The bill is sponsored by State Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta). Last year, the Mayor of Cookeville tried to pass a citywide anti-panhandling bill, but it was defeated by advocates who spoke out against the bill. Rep. Williams then took this effort to the state level and is claiming that people in his community wanted this.

Please join us in telling our elected officials that *homelessness is not a crime* and that our friends on the streets need housing – not fines, not citations, not handcuffs!


SUBJECT: We Need Housing, Not Handcuffs – Vote NO on HB0978/SB1610



Dear Members Senate Judiciary Committee:

I am urgently writing to you as a concerned Tennessee resident to vote NO on advancing Tennessee House Bill 0978 (HB0978) and corresponding Senate Bill 1610 (SB1610). This proposed bill will further criminalize Tennessee’s most impoverished and vulnerable citizens for merely existing in public spaces without addressing the root cause of homelessness – the lack of affordable housing.

Here are four reasons why you should vote NO:

1) Criminalizing homelessness is not only unjust, but also adds additional barriers that prevent people from obtaining housing and employment. This bill will do nothing to truly help people who need social services, economic resources, and affordable housing. Handcuffs, fines, and citations can’t heal. Just last week, one of the men that Open Table Nashville (a homeless outreach nonprofit) is working with, was denied from housing because of a trespassing charge on his record from two years ago. (Even people who are approved for public housing through Section 8 often still have to get approval by private landlords to use their vouchers in local apartment complexes.)

2) Tennessee is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, and instead of pouring energy into criminalizing people without housing, we need you, our lawmakers, to invest in creating more affordable housing and lowering the barriers to existing units of housing. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, nearly one third of all Tennessee renters qualify as Extremely Low Income, and there is currently a shortage of at least 126,597 affordable homes for this income group across the state. In addition to adding barriers HB0978/SB1610 encroaches on protections granted by the 9th Circuit Court in Martin vs. Boise by criminalizing involuntary homelessness.

3) HB0978/SB1610 is fiscally irresponsible when you consider that housing people who experience chronic homelessness is less expensive than keeping them on the streets. According to multiple studies across the nation, an individual’s chronic homelessness can cost the public over $30,000 a year due to costs incurred through to use of emergency services and unnecessary and expensive interactions with our legal system. A housing-first approach would be both more fiscally responsible for the state of Tennessee and better for our communities by reducing the strain the experience of homelessness places on local hospitals, court rooms, and prisons.

4) In every major religion, there is a special concern for the poor and a mandate for people of faith and conscience to extend compassionate support. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says, “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.” Isaiah 10:1-2a says, Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.” We are urging you as a leader of faith/conscience to do the right thing and care for the poor instead of criminalizing them.

For the above reasons and so much more, I ask you to vote NO on HB0978 and SB1610. I am asking that you vote on behalf of the thousands of unhoused Tennesseans who are also your deserving constituents. This bill will only further harm our neighbors without housing and make it even more difficult for them to obtain housing or employment (if they are not already employed, as we know the working homeless is one of the fastest growing subgroups of those experiencing homelessness). No one deserves to be without a home, and no one deserves to be criminalized for merely trying to survive. Tennesseans need housing, not handcuffs.

(Your name)
(Your address)


Write Your Councilmember TODAY about Affordable Housing

Want to do something NOW about homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in Nashville?

Please write or call metro council TODAY and let them know it is time to get serious about Nashville’s housing crisis. We support the Mayor’s proposed $25 million bond to preserve affordable housing, and $10 million for the Barnes Fund authorized in the Capital Spending Plan.  These small amounts are in doubt and at risk of being cut this coming Tuesday, June 13 at Metro Council.

  1. Some members might want to cut or reduce the $25 million amount
  2. Some want to defer this whole approval until much later in the year

As you know, we need every available tool in our toolbox to address housing needs (particularly for our most vulnerable friends).  These funds are specifically slated to address rental housing UNDER 60% of AMI and to step in where subsidies are needed. The Mayor strongly believes we need to make the funding available so we can move swiftly.

Some say there is not enough money to house Nashvillians while at the same time believe there is enough for the proposed $150 million professional soccer stadium that is in the budget. Let council know it is time to stop playing games with the lives of our friends and neighbors.


Until June 13 at 6pm & then, show up to the Council Meeting that night at the Council Chamber in the Historic Metro Courthouse, One Public Square in downtown Nashville to show your support.

Action 1: You can write the entire council by going to the following link, typing in your info and response, and choose email “Entire Metro Council” in Step 2:

In the subject line, add “Support the Affordable Housing Bond issue and More”.

Action 2: Email the Mayor by going to this link and ask her to do more:

Individual responses are best, but here’s one example of a letter—feel free to use it as is, or modify.

> Download the letter to edit <

Dear Councilmember(s) __________,

I write to ask you to support the Mayor’s plans for a $25 million bond issue to preserve affordable housing in the capital expenditure budget, the $10 million allocation for the Barnes Fund NOW without delay or at the risk of being cut.  It is urgent that Nashville do more. Our neighbor families are being pushed into poverty and homelessness by the lack of affordable housing.

1)   The need: Nashville has 23,000 people experiencing homelessness, including 8,000 schoolchildren (the some 2,300 count you hear in the news is a 6 hour, one night count that doesn’t include most of the children). But this is not just about those experiencing homelessness. HALF of Nashville’s WORKERS make less than $31,000 per year. It takes 3 full time minimum wage jobs to afford a $750 one bedroom apartment—and there are few of those. Every council district but one had over 40% of cost burdened renters. As of 2015, there is a need for 18,000 units of affordable according to the Mayor’s recent report. According to the GNAA, last year Nashville had some 16,000 rental units under construction, but fewer than 600 were affordable, and we lost more than 2000 affordable units for the second year in a row. People are being driven from the city they have lived in for generations, into deep poverty, or onto the streets because they cannot afford housing.

2)   I support the Mayor’s planned $25 million bond issue to preserve affordable housing, the $10 million for the Barnes Fund, and the proposed Land Trust. Council should pass these, but they do not go far enough.

3)   Housing should be a priority: affordable housing will allow children to do better in school, and reduce pressures that produce hunger, medical crises, homelessness, and crime, all costly to the city. Studies have shown over and over that housing the chronic homeless saves at least $21,000 per year, and with 23,000 people unhoused, this is a savings of $483 million per year. It would nearly pay for the housing needs in one year. Even at half the savings, it would pay for itself in two years.

Nashville has spent more than enough in tax increment financing and bond issues on luxury hotels for tourists, luxury condos for the wealthy, and sports stadiums—it must be a city for ALL of its people. It is time to stop playing games with the lives of our friends and neighbors.