WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Texas Legislators are advancing a bill that would ban public encampments across the state.
It’s a move that has leaders at local shelters wondering whether the bill would criminalize being homeless.
House Bill 1925 prohibits a person from intentionally camping in a public place without consent from an officer or agency having legal authority to manage the public area. Impacting many who have no place to call home.
Misty Roberts knows life on the streets.
“Whenever since I was a young girl, ya know, I never was a runaway from home. But I’ve been through certain things of life,” Roberts said.
She says though, places like Faith Mission in Wichita Falls give her hope.
“Ya know I have changed those things and made it better for myself,” Roberts said.
Roberts says suffering with asthma, finding work has been difficult.
It’s why she believes it would be a mistake to fine people who are just trying to get by.
“Certain people can get jobs and then certain people I know that can’t. But they can volunteer though,” Roberts said.
By a vote of 85-56, Texas Legislators passed House Bill 1925 on Wednesday which would make camping in an unapproved public place a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.
“Unfortunately, it turns them into a criminal. Ya know, as hard as that is to say. When someone chooses not to live in a house, an apartment, or a shelter and chooses to live outside. If they camp out in a public place, this law is going to make that illegal and they are going to punished for that,” Faith Mission CEO Steve Sparks said.
Sparks says that not only would this cause added obstacles for people without a home it also creates problems for law enforcement.
“It’s all gonna come down to our local police officers having to enforce this and it’s going to make them into really bad guys in a lot of cases and I don’t think our local police, which we have a really great relationship with, want to be put in that position,” Sparks said.
But as the bill heads to the senate, commanding officer of the Wichita Falls Salvation Army Toby Romack says there’s one thing everyone can be sure of.
“The Salvation Army doesn’t have any influence on governmental policies or whatever but we do make our voices heard. And that’s why we are so adamant about meeting the needs of the people as we have done for 111 years right here in Wichita Falls,” Romack said.
No matter the outcome, their door will always be open.
Sparks says that while homeless encampments are not as visible in Wichita Falls as they are in other larger cities like Austin or Dallas, they do exist.