NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A new state law went into effect last summer, criminalizing camping on public property. Now, one man is working on a project to highlight how the law is impacting Tennessee’s homeless population.
Terence Lester has heard various stories on the streets of Nashville.
“I was talking to one individual and he said, ‘I got a ticket and I have a fine, but how will I pay the fine? And I get caught in this cycle,’” Lester said.
He also told News 2 about a person who described how hard it was to access shelters or other places to stay due to a lack of ADA accommodations.
According to Lester, the cycle of homelessness is something people rarely learn from those facing it.
“We never get a chance to hear the emotions, the stories, the narratives from their perspective,” he said.
A PhD dissertation and a bill led this Georgia native to Tennessee.
“I was tasked with this task of finding a policy problem, and it was around the time when the bill was actually being formed and about to pass,” explained Lester.
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Last July, Tennessee’s anti-camping bill went into effect, making camping on a public property a felony.
“If I’m honest, I broke down crying,” Lester recalled.
Lester knew this bill would have a serious impact on the homeless.
“I found out that there are actually more people who are unhoused in the state of Tennessee than beds that are available,” he said.
As a result, Lester decided to focus his PhD on the implications of this bill. This week, he’s traveling through the Volunteer State, talking to people who are homeless, as well as community leaders, for research.
“Many of the individuals that I talked to just want to be seen, want to be heard, and want to have the same accessibility to safe space as every other person, and given opportunities to get themselves out of the experience of homelessness,” explained Lester.
It’s those stories he’s hearing that Lester hopes to share with others once his work is complete.
“When you talk about the subject of homelessness, oftentimes it lacks compassion, and that needs to change,” he said.
Lester will be traveling to Knoxville and Chattanooga later this week to speak with the homeless and the community leaders in those cities.
Lester says he is creating a documentary of his journey in Tennessee as part of his dissertation. He plans to come back to Nashville with his finished documentary to showcase to lawmakers.