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Homeless concerns grow in Bristol, Virginia after new camping law takes effect in TN

WCYB Tri-Cities TN 7/7/2022 Ashley Hoak

A new law took effect July 1, making camping on Tennessee public property a crime.

Now, there's concern a growing homeless issue could cross state lines.

"It's really become an epidemic here in Bristol."

That's how Bristol, Virginia Police Captain Maynard Ratcliff describes the homeless issue in the city.

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He says officers responded to several calls Wednesday morning alone, and it's keeping police busy.

"That's been a lot of our workload each day and night, dealing with these people that are camped out on private property where they shouldn't be. They are interfering with other people's property."

Captain Ratcliff gave News 5 a tour of a known homeless camp, just off Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 

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"Unfortunately, most of them end up trashing the place, they don't pick up after themselves and cleanup, we've had vandalism."

With a new law that took effect July 1 in Tennessee prohibiting camping or sleeping on public property, Ratcliff says Bristol, Virginia could see an impact.

"We do feel like that's probably going to cause a lot of people to come over into Virginia where they can avoid that law."

Beth Rhinehart, President of the Bristol Chamber, says work is underway to combat the growing homeless issue.

That includes entities working together with the hope of creating a day center, as a place for people to seek refuge.

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"We need to all be addressing it and just trying to understand why there's more folks right now."

Ratcliff agrees that something needs to be done.

"We need to work with them to try to combat this problem -- I do not know what the answer is."
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