Comments 22

  1. I blogged back in the winter about my guilt and confused feelings regarding the homeless after I was approached by a young hispanic man as I exited Mellow Mushroom with my family. It is an issue, for women like Em it’s a very real issue, and it’s something I won’t ever be totally comfortable with. I get very nervous when I am approached and I try very hard to avoid situations that put me in proximity with them. The issues that come with transients in your neighborhood are the main reasons why I like living outside of downtown. Because I like not worrying about whether my cheap, factory sound system will still be installed in my dash when I come down to get in the car each day. Likewise, it’s nice to not have to worry about taking out the GPS and XM units every time I leave the car. Call me conflicted about how to deal with them, but I think they most certainly do impact the quality of life in Downtown. Just like my neighbor’s unrestrained dogs who poo in my yard daily have an impact on mine. I wish there was a solution that didn’t keep them congregated in the downtown area. Every mission in town doesn’t need to be within a three block radius of each other. Do they?

  2. I agree, Knoxville doesn’t have a homeless problem….we have a homeless industry. It seems the city would have some strict rules and regs. for panhandlers. Strict rules and an educational marketing plan might go along way to bringing more people to downtown.

  3. for downtown to ever be taken seriously the way it wants to be, the homeless need to be removed completely. i used to live in philadelphia, a lot larger city with a greater homeless population, and they were never visible or bothered anyone because the police took care of them and they knew the rules about panhandling. i’ve heard of police from johnson city bringing homeless people to knoxville to get rid of them, and this has got to stop. knoxville needs to move the mission out of downtown, and away from the greyhound station- homeless from all over the south hear how “easy” it is to be homeless in knoxville, and save up money to get a bus ticket to knoxville, and conveniently just need to walk a few blocks. its too easy here, and it needs to stop. i’m sick of walking my dog downtown and homeless people just waltzing right up and petting my dog- without my permission. only the homeless do that, none of the other folks downtown. it creeps me out and i’m fed up.

  4. Man you are not alone. I am fed up with it on several levels, but really enjoy the passion and excitement of the city. Interesting what Philly did, wonder what Seattle or even Asheville does to control their homeless population. Heard Seattle had a dramatic turnaround.

  5. @hates being panhandled

    > I’ve heard of police from johnson city bringing homeless people to knoxville to get rid of them, and this has got to stop.

    This sounds a little unbelievable to me. Can you provide evidence?

    I can’t imagine tax payers would be happy at the expense involved in this action. In fact, using the police force to manage the homeless is probably not the best solution and may in fact be one of the worst because it takes the officers away from other efforts.

    Are there any studies that show the actual numbers of homeless in Knoxville? It might help to know what we’re dealing with instead of ranting about one-persons’ experience.

    1. Johnson City needs to bring another couple of van loads of bums to knoxville the city is filling up again.

    2. I agree, but what else can cities do? I am going to Johnson City for college at ETSU and would rather the panhandlers be removed from my town so that I can go have fun, eat, etc without being encroached upon. That is exactly how I feel. I live in Knoxville and am enjoying the sights and sounds during the last 2 months I have here. I leave in January so I don’t have that much time left. If the police are shipping them out, I will feel so much safer

  6. I have only heard myths about 60% of these people are drug and alcohol related and 40% are mentally ill. But can’t confirm anything, would love to see numbers. One of the homeless businesses around here probably has those. I have heard of people in ATL shipping their homeless via greyhound….and the JC thing. Urban legend, maybe?

  7. Patrick Beeson:

    I have evidence from a Johnson City officer who is my cousin- but I don’t want to say his name and get anyone in trouble. He didn’t do it, but knew others on the JC force who did.

    I’ve also heard of people from neighboring states shipping homeless to us via greyhound- but i have no hard evidence on that.

    Using the police force to control the homeless population like Philly did is an excellent idea, i see where you are coming from but controlling the homeless population does in turn decrease crime rates. Philly’s Old City became a place you can actually live because the homeless were removed, and car break-ins, porch theft and home break-ins were greatly reduced. our problem isn’t just panhandling- its crime. on the Sunsphere is not a wigshop the other day one of the contributors wrote how their vehicle was broken into a few days ago, and i’ve known many friends who have had their car broken into while at barleys (muddy footprints and change stolen- sure sign). this is a crime issue and it needs to be dealt with before it gets out of hand. i’d like to know where my tax dollars are going, if the police can’t even control the homeless breaking into cars, which happens constantly and could be an easy thing to stop.

    1. My applause to the Johnson City Police Department for making Johnson City and ETSU a better place to live, work, play, and study. I just wish that I they shipped them to Philly rather than Knoxville, where I live. But I will be at ETSU soon anyway so I will be away from that problem.

  8. Remember, after years of knowing these populations and research into each group, I promise you that a few dozen panhandlers and the much larger chronic/transient homeless population rarely overlap. This issue is how we deal with a growing and more aggressive group of opportunists, not those many who need a life plan with existing services. We should deal with in one additional way. I write “additional”, since we already have an existing panhandling ordinance on our books. Look it up on the city website, using the Municode link. Thanks to those city officials who publicly discussed, thoughtfully researched, and passed this very detailed ordinance, we do have a better patio dining experience downtown, within 20 feet of other specific places, and panhandling is completely illegal from sundown to sunrise. However, did you know that other towns much smaller and much larger than ours (Asheville, Tacoma, Orlando, St. Augustine, to name a few) have banned envasive panhandling 24/7 in very pedestrian-friendly zones in their respective downtowns?

    So, do we just complain or do we do something about it? Well, I called the city attorney in Asheville, who cited Orlando as another successful legislative effort to help boost the resident and visitor experience in their Downtown Zone District, officially defined their municipal code, sections 43-86,87, and 88. Go to and scroll down to chapter 43, sections 86-88, which deal with an effective ban of active solicitiation within defined boundries, allows for very specific types of reasonable soliciation, and also overlaps Knoxville’s ordinance to point. However, the Downtown Zone District ban goes that one extra step for those living in or visiting their most competitively challenged pedestrian area. Agree or not, let your city leaders know what you think, as I have, and post your opinion in the forum under Downtown Knoxville Panhandling, if you like.

    Obviously on a larger scale, downtown Orlando competes with Disney, Universal Studios, and dozens of other competitive destinations. As for us, Knoxville has a modern shopping experience at Turkey Creek, amazing tourist and convention meccas just one county away, and now two perfect “downtown” communities are being built to offer the feel of downtown in the suburbs. Throw in a variety of other competitive forces here, and from other towns like ours, and what we are left to reasonably control are current quality-of-life issues in our own downtown “zone”. We need to, one by one, take down the list of excuses and percieved reasons many neighbors of ours have for not shopping, dining, living, working, and/or investing in our original downtown. After consulting law enforcement and chronic-homeless advocates, the time is now to stop these opportunists and any associated criminal activity downtown and offer greater support for law enforcement by citizens with a simple message for panhandlers – “I’m not going to help you break the law.”


  9. @hates being panhandled

    You should really use your actual name. Anonymous usernames are so Web 1.0. 🙂

    But seriously, I think it might be best to confirm where the crimes are coming from instead of blaming the homeless. You still aren’t providing any evidence of your accusations.

    The solution, IMHO, is to research the real numbers of the homeless in Knoxville, how they became homeless and their behavior (begging, crimes, etc). Then we can put together a rehabilitation plan funded by a combination of grants and government funding.

    The answer is definitely not shipping the homeless to another city, which I still think is too farfetched to be true. And if it is, the local media needs to add this to their story budget ASAP.

  10. I think it would be useful to separate the issues: “homelessness” from “panhandling.” homelessness is a problem that, for various reasons, affects all cities. knoxville will always have homeless people, the question is: do we have a disproportionate number to our population? let’s say nyc has 5% of its population homeless, and knoxville has 10%. then we have to ask ourselves why and address the causes.

    the original question in this article addresses issue two: panhandling is a practice that illegal and annoying. many times it might be someone who is merely poor, not actually homeless. the point is that while homelessness and panhandling are linked, you can’t say that we will stop panhandling by getting rid of the homeless. you stop panhandling by stopping panhandling. if we as a community have decided that this is something we don’t want, and we make laws against it, then the police need to enforce it. and it takes two to tango in this crime. we need to not encourage panhandling by giving out money. i think it would be interesting if the law came with a fine for anyone caught giving money out. people would stop accommodating panhandlers right quick, and the panhandlers would get the message: no easy money in knoxville. in all these discussions i keep here the same thing: “in much larger cities with more homeless i don’t get hassled this much.” regardless of whether our homeless population is disproportionate, the panhandling here is definitely disproportionate. basically what we need is good ol’ crackdown.

  11. I agree both are different, but it is still the Knoxville industry that markets to both demographics, that’s why they sprawl around .5 mile radius, “If you build it they will come,” and Knoxville has built it. I remember when homeless people used to be called bums…I personally feel panhandling is a politically correct way to say homeless. I do have compassion for those who have mental illness or drug problems, but I don’t think our downtown needs to be the hub…not to say these places can’t move outside the city. The less loitering you have by homeless, panhandlers, bums… whatever, they are called in 2008 by politically correct people – the better the downtown experience will be because it will look safer. Knoxville is a safe place, marshmellow safe…so everything needs to be clean for most citizens to venture past their burb – “Knoxville the world’s best suburb.”

  12. CK is spot-on. Panhandling isn’t the same as homelessness. Panhandling’s a kind of industry. Panhandlers want your money, and to get some of it, they’ll offer to sell you a vibe. If you come downtown you’re part of their market. Maybe you assuage some kind of guilt when you pay a panhandler. Maybe you get a good feeling because you think you’re really helping someone or some cause. Maybe you get…who knows?

    But you don’t have to buy that vibe. As CK implies, if nobody supported this industry here, it would shrink. It’s okay to say to a panhandler, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to give you any money.” If they persist, ignore them and keep going.

    It’s fine if you want to tell them about the services available to them, but in my experience downtown panhandlers are almost never interested in that information. Why should they be? They’re there to sell their vibes.

    I work for The Ten-Year Plan office and I hear a lot about panhandling. We think one of our messages to the public needs to be built around good ways to confront the issue. I’d be very interested to know what anyone thinks about that.

    Concerning homelessness, it’s probably true that people who bump into trouble with the law in some of the areas surrounding Knoxville get put on a bus and exported to Knoxville. It would be hard to know how much of this goes on because people who do this kind of exporting probably aren’t going to admit it. It’s also probably not something that happens a lot. It’s hard to say.

    There’s a persistent myth here and probably in every other community that offers services to homeless people. That myth is that all these homeless people come from somewhere else, and are even deliberately shipped here by other communities’ law enforcement arms. I’ve never once seen this substantiated, and I seriously doubt its veracity.

    Many homeless people are transient, and many of Knoxville’s homeless people come from other places (as do many of Knoxville’s people who are not homeless). Over half of them do come from Tennessee. I’d be willing to bet that if you looked at any other city like ours, you’d see pretty similar demographic tendencies. We get a lot of people from the outlying counties because we’ve got the infrastructure here to support them.

    Dr. Roger Nooe does a study every two years of the homeless population in Knoxville. It’s got good demographic details. For instance, it contains a count of people who are homeless, and percentages related to chronic homelessness. I’ve posted the latest one (2006) at I’d be interested to know if any of you find that helpful, and if there are other ways we can facilitate good communication around the issue of homelessness, especially the chronic kind.

  13. As someone who has lived in both Knoxville and Memphis, I can commiserate with those who must deal with panhandlers. I have heard every story in the book from people asking for, say, $1.85. Unfortunately, there are those of us who are convinced to fork over our hard-earned pay (I am guilty of doing this a few times years ago.) The best solution is for people not to give money away. Instead, donate to your local homeless shelter or charity. I know there were certain ministries in Memphis where you could leave a donation for a particular individual. I am unsure whether if Knoxville has a similar program, but in Memphis, concerned citizens are able to purchase booklets with vouchers to the homeless shelter (to be given in lieu of money to strangers in need). These tickets are good for the $6.00 linen fee charged by the Union Mission in Memphis. It is there that a person can get a hot meal, a shower, and a bed to sleep on for a night. The mission is a good place for those plagued by addiction to seek assistance. A coworker of mine takes his young sons there a few weekends out of the month to help out with the soup kitchen there.

    There are a variety of options available to citizens to help out those in need. Handing out money only exacerbates the problem by encouraging continued pestering of the citizenry.

  14. Here’s a good article from the Herald Tribune in Sarasota, FL last week.

    I work at The Salvation Army, but I’ve been in Knoxville for less than a year, so I am still learning. One thing that surprises me is that, of all the people I have met, the ones who have the least patience with the transient population are the ones I work with who have come off the street, gone through our programs and gotten their lives straight. The one thing I hear from them over and over again is “They don’t have to be out there. They could come in any time they want.”

    It is true, the majority of those we classify as “chronically homeless” suffer from addiction or mental illness.

    I really have no idea how you would “move them” out of downtown, where you “put them”, how you would sustain such a community or enforce such a policy.

  15. Until we enforce a strict ban on panhandling it will never stop. One of the more Prolific panhandlers downtown lives in Oak Ridge and gets dropped off and picked up everyday. “Do you know Where the V.A. is?” Sound familiar to anyone? We need to move the Shelters out into the Country. They come here on a bus. We can round them up and take them there on a bus. I can’t step out of my front door downtown without being asked for money. Or, someone trying to sell me CD’s. Like they miraculously managed to save this book of CD’s when everything else has been taken from them. NO. They stole them out of someone’s car. Luckily, The Gutter punk who stole mine wandered into the square and tried to sell them to me. And It’s getting worse. Just watch the “Crack Traffic” on Summitt Hill or cruise through Zombie Row on Broadway next to the Mission. Go Vols!

  16. Pingback: KFQ: Panhandling Meters - Knoxify

  17. Yea crack traffic is right, and look out for a girl that has short black hair that is usually in Market square and the old city. Her name is Christy and will try to scam you out of everything. It’s a drug problem with her and she doesn’t want help. I prey every night that she’ll find peace in her but she can’t see what she is doing. So my advice is not to give anything to her. Also look out for the flower sellers on the street. We need to get the crack dealers out of town so panhandlers will go away. Just my two cents.

  18. Well, Brad, one can start off with the rather aggressive nature of a fair number of panhandlers, especially when told “no”. (One can learn a new curse word or two that way.)

    Then there’s the issue of what happens when some panhandlers get drunk off of their “earnings” – last week one was burning magazine pages on the Third Creek Greenway right behind West High School (before the rains came, so it was also nice and dry) and then attacked the person that caught him doing it.

    I could keep going. No, really, there’s no lack of examples. Which makes me wonder why a smart guy like you would ask such a stupid question like that. Geez. You’re not THAT sheltered, are you?

    Come walk with me down the Row one morning. Like around 1am. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. I promise. But you’ll see some things you’ve never personally seen before, I can guarantee that.

    Take care, Brad. And in the future, please – use more common sense when asking questions.


  19. I live in Knoxville and like to go downtown on Fridays and Saturdays for fun. My life is a living stresshole like so many people, and a trip away from routine helps give me positive energy as well as keep me from going on a pity party. I park on South Gay Street because it is one of the only places I can find to park. Lately, it dosen’t seem to matter which side of the street I walk on. I am always approached by someone asking for money. One of them asked for $.75 for a one way ticket home. I did not give the money, but when I went to the bus stop I learned that it costs $1.50 even for a one way ticket anywhere. It also needs to be in exact change. This man kept asking people for money, and when one person gave him money he stayed and asked someone else for 75 cents. By the end of the night he would have had enough money for at least three bus tickets plus 3 bottles of beer. I am not exaggerating either. The problem with giving money to panhandlers is not just the risk of them telling a lie. It does not encourage them to get honest work and get out of the problems they are in. If the guy had asked I would have bought him a bus fare, but I never give money to panhandlers. Panhandlers are hurting business in the city I have lived in and loved my entire life, and I really hope it stops. This is unlikely though. My advice is not to give money to panhandlers, but to go buy them food or a bus or train ticket. That way you give them something that cannot be used on drugs or alcohol, but can really help them.

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