On Wednesday, the Tennessee State Senate voted 22-10 to pass a bill that criminalizes homelessness in the the Volunteer State. The bill, sponsored by right-wing extremist state Sen. Paul Bailey, “expands punishments for unauthorized camping on state-owned property to all public property.” It will now be sent to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature. It is expected to be signed into law as Lee is the kind of guy who ignored children’s pleas to not allow “permitless” gun ownership in Tennessee.
The bill gives local authorities the discretion to bring more severe charges against unhoused Americans. Proponents of the bill say that they’ve tried nothing, and since nothing has worked, we need to allow police to scatter encampments of unhoused people, or threaten them with jail. Opponents of the bill say that instead of wasting resources on destroying campsites, we could apply that same energy and purpose towards building housing that people can afford, or even help subsidize homes and shelter for people.
During the state senate floor debate on Wednesday, Republican state Sen. Frank Nicely got up to talk about homelessness and the need to light a fire under homeless folks. Nicely is given to revisionist history lessons lauding treason and fascism, and Wednesday’s tedious folkism was no different. In fact, this was an inspirational story about Adolf Hitler.
Nicely began by saying: "I haven't given y'all a history lesson in a while and I wanted to give a little history on homelessness." Maybe one of the reasons Nicely hasn’t y’all’d up a history lesson for a few months is because the last time he did, he told the world that the South not only didn’t lose the Civil War in 1865 when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered—they’re actually “winning.”
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Nicely then launched in: “Nineteen and ten, Hitler decided to live on the streets. So for two years Hitler lived on the streets and practiced his oratory and his body language and how to connect with the masses. And then went on to lead a life that got him in the history books. So, a lot of these people it’s not a dead end. They can come out of these homeless camps and have a productive life, or in Hitler's case a very unproductive life.”
Let’s follow your logic: Hitler was homeless for a time and then became the historic monstrous antisemite who ruined a mustache and set of names for generations, and this means that homeless people can be important people to history—but don’t be Hitler. Or be like Hitler, but more “productive?”
Side note: The Tennessee blunderhead even got this history wrong: Hitler was fancying himself a struggling artist in Vienna, Austria, and went from being unhoused in 1909 to a men’s hostel set up exactly for the purpose of housing homeless Germans in 1910.*
Double side note: According to City-Date.com and bestplaces.com, the Strawberry Plains region of Tennessee that Nicely represents matches the financial demographics of the medians in income and housing costs of the rest of the state, but is also about 95% white. That’s pretty homogeneous for Tennessee. Guess that’s where that “we didn’t lose the Civil War” talk comes from?
Nicely’s comments were in opposition to Democratic state Sen. Brenda Gilmore of Nashville, who wondered how criminalizing being poor helped children. “It just breaks my heart that we are criminalizing people who have no where else to go. And if you take and incarcerate their parents, then I think that again only multiplies the issue of taking their parents away from these children simply because they are poor.”
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Open Table Nashville’s Paula Foster said the state senate’s vote filled her with “Sadness and disgust.” She went on to point out the obvious need for real solutions. “The answer to homelessness and we’ve said it over and over is more housing. We need to put the resources that we are spending making more laws that are clearly inhumane into the resources we need to build more housing units.”
Cathy Jennings, director of the local news paper sold by homeless people, The Contributor, told the Tennessean: "The only answer to homelessness is housing. Not fines. Fines just push people out of sight, further away from existing services, and make it harder for them to become housed.”
Director of Homeless and Supportive Housing in Chattanooga Sam Wolfe told News Channel 9: “If every single person experiencing homelessness in our community showed up to shelters and said, 'Yes, please give me a place to sleep,' the reality is that there's not enough spaces for them.” Being diplomatic, Wolfe went on to try and appeal to the drip of humanity that may or may not be left in Tennessee GOP legislators. “I think that really underscores the importance for us to act sooner rather than later to create those options for folks. It doesn't take an ordinance going through the Senate for anyone to look in our community and see that the problem of homelessness is far greater than it ever has been.”
Here is the American embarrassment that is Frank Nicely.
*The hostel was set up and funded by wealthy Jewish families, by the by.