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'It’s defeating the purpose' | Homeless resident shares perspective on pending TN camping bill

House Bill 978 would make it a misdemeanor to camp under a highway and a felony to stay on public property.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee bill critics say would criminalize homelessness has been sent to Governor Bill Lee’s desk. 

It would make it a Class C misdemeanor to camp under a highway or bridge and a felony to camp on public property. 

To some, homeless people may seem invisible. 

“Alright, we’re ready,” said Liza Hubbard, who drove through downtown Monda. She's the street outreach coordinator for Hospitality Hub.

She’s constantly passing out snacks, water and lending conversation to those who often are ignored. 

Christopher Williams calls her ‘Goldie.’

“(You) feel like you’re contributing to something and not that person, ‘oh they’re just a homeless bum,’ you know? But with the Hospitality Hub it makes you feel a part of society.”

Hubbard helped Williams get a job.

The former business owner has been homeless off and on since 2001.

“I get a place, get off my meds and we back on the street again,” said Williams.  

He’s had mental health issues since he was a kid.

In 2008 it brought him to his darkest place. 

“I shot myself, I was frustrated,” shared Williams. “Being homeless you are out on the street, you can’t get any sleep, you can’t get proper food.”

He said most people on the street can’t get proper medication or afford shots either. 

The situation’s worse for women. 

“The women that are on the street they’re everybody’s first priority,” said the father and grandfather. “They get raped, get abused.”

RELATED: 'They’re in need of housing, not punishment' | Manna House founder says Tenn. bill will hinder the homeless

Williams sees the potential Tennessee law on homelessness as dismissive. 

“Passing a bill, putting a person in jail,” he said. “It’s defeating the purpose.”

House Bill 978 would make it a misdemeanor to camp under a highway and a felony to stay on public property.

“It’s like putting a band-aid over a big wound because if you put them in jail you’re not helping the issue,” said Hubbard.  

It’s a bill she said will not help but rather make a stressful situation worse. 

Meanwhile, Williams is keeping his head up.

“My job, makes you feel better when you shave and go to the store and you know if you wanna buy a pop or something, buy you a pop or something.”

He’s working on writing his next chapter.

“(A) good hot meal, would make everybody happy.”

ABC 24’S Rebecca Butcher was told the bill was sent to Gov. Lee’s desk on April 22nd. He can sign it into law, veto it, or allow it to become law after 10 days without penning his signature. That 10th day is Tuesday.

RELATED: Bill to punish homeless for sleeping in public spaces passes state House and Senate

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