Bills Imposing Fines Or Jail Time For Homeless Encampments Move Forward In Oklahoma Legislature

House Bill 3686 and Senate Bill 1854, authored by republicans Rep. Chris Kannady and Sen. Darrell Weaver, would target homeless encampments and the people who live in those communities.

Thursday, March 7th 2024, 4:25 am



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Two bills are rapidly moving through Oklahoma's legislative session, with identical language in Oklahoma's House and Senate.

House Bill 3686 and Senate Bill 1854, authored by republicans Rep. Chris Kannady and Sen. Darrell Weaver, would target homeless encampments and the people who live in those communities.

The bills' language would make the use of state-owned land for an "unauthorized camp" a misdemeanor, with possible consequences ranging from a $50 fine to 15 days in jail. But, on their first violation, police are encouraged to instead connect the person with services or take them to a shelter.

Oklahoma City's homeless alliance and City Rescue Mission both believe the language in the bill is unsustainable.

"They're still going to be unsheltered, because the shelters are at or over capacity," said City Rescue CEO Erin Goodin.

Sen. Julia Kirt, a democrat, fought against the bill in a floor debate on Tuesday.

"Where are they supposed to go when law enforcement makes them leave?" She asked.

In his responses, Sen. Weaver called the encampments public safety risks.

"It's not only a safety issue for families and people that are traveling, but it also, I believe, it's a safety issue for the people that are under the bridges," Sen. Weaver said.

The Homeless Alliance said a better solution would be more affordable housing.

"As a general rule, criminalizing homelessness is counterproductive," said director Dan Straughan. "Misdemeanors generate fines that people experiencing homelessness can’t easily pay, which leads to a failure to appear in court, which leads to needless bench warrants."

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