Assembly Bill 689 and Senate Bill 669 Will Force Homeless Americans into Concentration Camps

Concentration camp - Assembly Bill 689 and Senate Bill 669

It is only by design that you have not already heard about this…

Right now, while you are scrolling through your laptop screen or cellphone, enjoying the little luxuries that life affords, secret committees in quiet rural sections of Wisconsin are voting in favor of forced concentration camps for members of one unprotected marginalized group – the homeless population.

How long before this type of legislation comes to your state? Experts say it is only a matter of time.

“The Senate side took up the debate in early December, and this wasn’t voted on because apparently, they’ll go into, like, an executive committee and vote when people aren’t around, which is very Wisconsin of ’em…”

-Sherrie Tussler, CEO of Hunger Task Force, speaking on how the latest criminalization bills were ushered in.

State-Sanctioned Internment Camps: The Next Phase of Criminalizing Homelessness is in Full Swing

This is an urgent warning for homeless and housing advocates everywhere. As 2024 commences, a corrupt organization called the Cicero Institute has set its sights on criminalizing homelessness in some of the most unfathomably cruel ways possible.

As you read this article, corporate magnates from all corners of the US are rallying to force our neighbors without walls into outdoor barracks that they refer to as “state-sanctioned camps.”

Let’s call them what they really are – new-aged concentration camps designed to penalize poor people. Not only are they ineffective and expensive, but they are also eerily dystopian facilities.

Picture vacant lots littered with shacks the same size as prison cells with no bathrooms and no electricity. Or better yet, imagine rows of outdoor slabs of concrete where you have to “behave” in order to earn a dusty mattress on the ground.

This is just scratching the surface of what’s in store. Here’s what you need to know about how to stop these bills before they take a serious toll on society.

Assembly Bill 689 and Senate Bill 669 are Pieces of Template Legislation Created to Criminalize Homelessness Across the Country. So, Then, Why Aren’t Voters Being Made Aware?

Concentration camps and secret committees, out-of-state lobbyists, and flat-out lies – as unbelievable and terrifying as it sounds, this is a glimpse into what’s happening behind closed doors in 2024 Wisconsin.

Here, Assembly Bill 689 and Senate Bill 669, which present template legislation to further criminalize Wisconsin’s homeless population, have been very quietly introduced, according to outside sources who’ve attended their private meetings.

Today, we sat down with Sherrie Tussler, who serves as Chief Executive Officer for the Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization Hunger Task Force. We aimed to use her 27 years of experience in the homeless sector to make sense of what is happening with Wisconsin legislation and to lay out the broader implications of what that means for all of us, housed and unhoused people, nationwide.

“We have this assembly bill pending in Wisconsin right now,” said Sherrie. “And it made it out of committee, the Senate’s Committee… Wisconsin is one of the most gerrymandered states in the US, and that may be up for a change, which is great news. But, as a result, there are a lot of very conservative people and people from rural areas who don’t know how to address homelessness.”

“And then they get an outside group, like the Cicero Institute suggesting legislation to them that they think is going to address homelessness from a different angle than Housing First, and they adopt it,” she explained. “That’s how that legislation sailed out of committee in a way that might blow most of us away.”

Unlike Past Legislative Attempts to Criminalize Homelessness, These New Bills Are Pushed Out All Across the Country in Massive Quantities at Record Speeds.

Homelessness is on the rise across the US. And our government has, in recent years, been opting for policies that tend to favor criminalization over housing.

While anti-homeless legislation (laws that make it illegal for unhoused people to engage in life-sustaining activities such as sitting, standing, and sleeping) has always been on the books, what we are witnessing now is very different. This is a concentrated effort to push homeless people out of sight and into concentration camps.

Because it is being introduced by a massive conservative lobby and backed by corporate funding, there is a very real possibility that the Cicero Institute could be paving the way for thousands of copycat bills just like those listed above to flood the capital with corporate agendas all at once.

If passed, this template legislation could accomplish all of the following devastating results:

  • Force homeless people into internment camps
  • Withhold statewide funding for other homeless services like emergency shelters
  • Perpetuate a homeless-to-prison pipeline
  • Redirect funding that was originally allocated to build affordable housing
  • Penalize governments that refuse to enforce these harmful criminalization policies
  • Ultimately cause more homelessness while making it less visible by hiding it in plain sight

“Over the past few years, as homeless camps have become more visible in the city of Milwaukee, we have responded more so with criminalization, jailing people, fining people, searching their tents, or removing their personal property while they were away, and even refusing to allow portable restrooms or hand washing facilities inside of camps,” said Sherri.

“The creation of internment camps, the finding of people who are homeless and outside of the camps, and the withholding of funding for shelter services until shelters can somehow prove that they’ve been effective, is just part of this corrupt strategy to address the visibility of homelessness without actually fixing the problem.”

These Bills Are Sailing Through Committees via Secret Votes, Deceptive Titles, and Bald-Faced Lies

“Assembly Bill 689 and Senate Bill 669 went through this committee with a name that is bordering on ridiculous,” Sherrie continued. “I believe it was called something like ‘Housing, Rural Issues, and Forestry’. I don’t know how those things even go together.”

“That being said, the Senate side took up the debate in early December, and this wasn’t voted on because apparently, they’ll go into, like, an executive committee and vote when people aren’t around, which is very Wisconsin of ’em,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of stuff like that go along with our budget process here in Wisconsin. There is no public hearing any more on a bill that’s pending.”

“Another unsettling element in all of this is the fact that it’s an out-of-state playbook,” Sherrie continued. “It’s fascinating to me that a group from outside of our state is going to influence what the public policy and even the law for our state would be about something as basic as putting a roof over someone’s head.”

“Our city, specifically, has been recognized nationally by HUD and others for reducing chronic homelessness through the Housing First strategy. Milwaukee is obviously in a cold climate, so house people, don’t let them freeze, and then address their issues,” Sherrie said. “Sadly, the Cicero Institute inverts that and says, take care of whatever’s causing their housing problem first, and then later they’ll get their own housing, which is kind of like Reagan’s trickle-down economics on a social service level. It didn’t work then. It’s not going to work now.”

To sell the general public on their horrific blueprint to imprison homeless people outside, lobbyists at the Cicero Institute have to first lie about the true causes of homelessness.

Academics, advocates, and social services workers all agree that the leading cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. However, the Cicero Institute ignores the glaring truth that we are short more than 7 million affordable homes, have unprecedented rates of inflation, have a record-high housing market with prices that have grown at quadruple the rate of the median wage, and have already lost most of the social safety nets that were implemented back in 2020.

The American Dream has collapsed onto itself like a dying star. And what does the government decide to build but a wasteland made of flammable shacks and windowless sheds? It is a shameful excuse for housing indeed.

“One of my staff did attend the meeting,” Sherrie told Invisible People. “And a gentleman from the Cicero Institute presented in favor, of course. Their position appears to be that homelessness is not a result of a lack of affordable housing or living wage jobs but instead about mental illness, domestic violence, and substance abuse. And so, they would prefer to create these internment camps and jurisdictions across Wisconsin.”

Everyone with any knowledge of homelessness knows that this idea that the crisis is fueled by personal flaws, as opposed to systemic failures, is an outright, bald-faced lie. If we aren’t cautious, it’s the lie they’ll build our future cities on.

Oppose Assembly Bill 689, Senate Bill 669, and All Comparable Template Legislation. Talk to Your Representatives Today.

Sources close to this developing story suspect that both bills could be rushed through assembly and placed on the governor’s desk as early as this month, very quietly, quite destructively. Please don’t hesitate to contact your legislators and voice your opposition to Assembly Bill 689, Senate Bill 669, and all comparable template legislation.


Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith

     

Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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