Photo: Beneath Veteran’s Bridge In August, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
The Chattanooga City Council passed a new ordinance on Tuesday that will help put a stop to vandalism across the city. One local group is criticizing the update, saying that enforcement will bring criminal punishment to homeless individuals in the city.
The ordinance specifically makes it illegal to place any sort of building or structure or to build a fire on any portion of a city bridge, culvert, or street.
According to Wendy Winters, executive director for the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, city council members never discussed the ordinance with her group or any similar organization. While she did acknowledge the need for the ordinance, she is concerned about the repercussions on the homeless population because wording that she says is not specific enough.
“The language is very broad,” Winters stated. “It has me fearful how it might be enforced. It will be broad, and it will be used to criminalize homelessness.”
Councilman Isiah Hester says the ordinance was updated to help maintain the city and was not meant to single out any particular group. He says the city council did consult with Sam Wolfe, the director of homelessness and supportive housing in Chattanooga.
“I think the intent was not to punish the homeless community,” Hester said. “It was to prevent any type of damage to bridges and all of that. It’s not just homeless people who are vandalizing bridges. It isn’t just the homeless who are being involved.”
Councilman Anthony Byrd noted that the ordinance is being put into place just as winter is arriving.
He says the important step is to find them adequate housing.
This is not the first time Winters has been critical of the city council’s treatment of the homeless. She previously spoke out against a plan to create a supervised encampment in the city. She said that doing so would allow the city to force people to relocate.
In recent months, incidents of panhandling and vandalism have been on the rise, with some police officers saying they were told not to enforce the laws when it came to homeless individuals. Officials have denied those claims, saying they have not told anyone to not enforce ordinances.
While Chattanooga offers a number of resources for the homeless, Winters says around 350 people still sleep on the streets each night. Currently, there are over 200 different agencies that provide support for these individuals, but many will not accept the assistance.
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City Council member Carol Berz has continued to push for stronger enforcement of the laws that are on the books. She also noted that many of the individuals who are panhandling and vandalizing property are not even members of the homeless community.
“The panhandlers are part of a group…They have handlers who pick up their money. It’s a whole different ball of wax,” Berz stated.
One local resident asked what many wanted answered: “We as taxpaying citizens have the right and responsibility to enforce the basic rules of civil society. Why will our government officials not do so?”
Residents are hopeful that this newest ordinance will help to solve this problem.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com