JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — On Friday, July 1 a bill goes into effect that criminalizes people who camp on public grounds. The bill makes camping along a controlled-access highway, entrance or exit ramp a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine or community service. Now those who advocate for people who struggle to find secure housing in our area are preparing for the law.
Capt. Crystal Carringer is the new corps officer and administrator of the Salvation Army of Johnson City along with her husband Benny.
As a teen Carringer, experienced homelessness and SB1610 raises concerns as she works on outreach within Johnson City.
“Coming from a place of homelessness and experiencing it — it’s absolutely terrifying to hear,” said Crystal Carringer. “To think that this could be the day that I get arrested because I have nowhere to go. That’s a scary thought.”
The bill expanded the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012 to include city and county public property. It previously only included state and private property.
The violation is punishable by “either a $50 fine and a sentence to 20-40 hours of community service work, or a sentence of 20-40 hours of litter removal.”
Crystal Carringers said that $50 can be a hefty fee for people experiencing homelessness.
“$50 Might as well be 500,” said Crystal Carringer. “I remember days when I was experiencing homelessness, even trying to find $5 to get a meal was a lot. So, when you think of it in that respect, I don’t know what the future holds.”
Carringer said felony or even misdemeanor charges can make finding stable housing even more difficult for those facing homelessness.
“If they have a misdemeanor or even a felony, it makes it very difficult for them to secure permanent housing, which makes our social services a little bit harder,” said Crystal Carringer. “We want to be able to help people from a holistic standpoint. And if they have a current charge, renters or lease owners don’t really want to deal with them.”
Benny Carringer said there are more obstacles to overcome than just finding housing, and the Salvation Army can offer those resources.
“Some of the situations that individuals face when it comes to getting out of homelessness is they don’t have an ID, they don’t have social security card, maybe they don’t even have money to actually rent,” said Benny Carringer. “If they need help applying for their social security cards, or if they need help getting back on their feet, we do have programs that the Salvation Army offers.”
Advocates with Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness (ARCH) said connecting people in the community to the many resources available will become an even higher priority.
“What we’ll need to do is step up our outreach efforts,” said Anne Cooper, Executive Director of ARCH. “We’re already planning on doing that so that we can be proactive and work with the community and the law enforcement to hopefully forego any, you know, arrest, we try to get them into a location as quickly as possible”
Cooper said finding permanent housing and support for those experiencing homelessness has always been and will continue to be their goal.
“We can typically pay a security deposit and one or two months rent, it just depends on a case-by-case basis, to get them in,” said Cooper. “But the important thing is that once they’re in this, this, that case, management is what stabilizes them, so they can sustain housing.”
Cooper said ARCH will continue to work with the Salvation Army and other local organizations to continue outreach both to those who need housing and those in the community who can offer support.
The Carringers said they are working to launch other Salvation Army programs within Johnson City to help people escape generational poverty and build strong foundations. According to the Carringers, the best way people can help is to make monetary donations to the organization to help fund the programs or buy supplies for the shelter.
If you would like more information on the services offered by ARCH you can visit their website here.
More information on the Salvation Army and services it offers can be found here.