multiple camping tents in a field of green grass with trees and blue sky in background
A government-sanctioned camp called 1st Step in Athens, Georgia provides temporary shelter for homeless people. Legislation that would have authorized such camps was stripped of that language on Thursday before it passed the state Senate on a 49-7 vote. (Faith Hadley/Fresh Take Georgia)

Legislation that would have authorized government-sanctioned camps for homeless people across Georgia was stripped of that language Thursday before it passed the state Senate on a 49-7 vote.

Senate Bill 62’s sponsor, state Sen. Carden Summers, withdrew the homeless camps provision after receiving substantial opposition. Critics questioned whether it was meant to “segregate” homeless people.

“We have to address housing issues,” said state Sen. Jason Esteves, an Atlanta Democrat. “But we should focus on doing that with our municipalities and do it in a way that doesn’t segregate those who are unhoused on land that is not subject to any kind of requirement regarding safety or community services.”

Summers, who is sponsoring the bill for the second consecutive year along with fellow Republican senators from rural parts of the state, said he worked with the legislation’s critics to remove controversial language.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of shelters and beds in Atlanta,” said Summers, who represents the Cordele area. “And the goal is not to arrest or incarcerate anybody. The goal of this bill is to simply help people find the help that they need.”

The revised version of SB 62 still forbids local governments from blocking the enforcement of any laws against “unauthorized public camping, sleeping or obstruction of sidewalks.” It also authorizes the Georgia Attorney General’s Office to sue municipalities that attempt to do that. And it calls for an audit examining how state and local government agencies spend money on homeless programs.

“What it will do is further criminalize people for being poor instead of really offering them anything substantial that would actually help them,” said state Sen. Nabilah Islam, a Lawrenceville Democrat.

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