KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The holiday season inspires many to give including to those experiencing homelessness. Many tend to give directly to the homeless dropping off items at random.

The city however says that generosity can lead to waste and can make it more challenging for those already living without shelter. Shawn Griffith, co-coordinator of the city’s homeless program, encourages those wanting to give to do so in a more targeted way.

“Understand what you’re giving to homeless populations,” Griffith said. “We frequently have individuals drop off perishable items on the curb, and they rot and they turn into more refuse and they make it a more challenging situation for unsheltered homeless.”

The city partners and funds organizations that work with the homeless every day. Griffith says supporting those agencies, like the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee, is a better way to give because they know what the needs are and where they are needed.

“When individuals go out and give to our homeless population, we really want to make sure that’s the last time you have to do that,” he said. “To make that happen, we have to make sure that charitable giving is aligned with our homeless service system because those are the individuals that have the resources to lift these people out of homelessness.

“We have a team of outreach workers that go out onto the streets of Knoxville and try to engage with those individuals and connect them to resources, which is housing, maybe shelter, mental health services, recovery, whatever they may need.”

Misty Goodwin, social services director at Knoxville-Knox County CAC, says the homeless population is growing in Knoxville and across the country.

She says the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of affordable housing, and a need for more mental health resources have all contributed to the rise. The CAC is focused on preventing people from becoming homeless through rent and utility assistance and case management.

Goodwin says its important to understand there is no magic cure to homelessness.

“I think we’re all doing the best we can to try to connect people to services that are available,” Goodwin said. “We too have our own barriers and waiting, just waiting lists, waiting periods to get in, so its just taking longer.”

The city’s homeless population count will be taken in January. The number of people using area shelters is already up 20%. Knoxville has had roughly 800 people experiencing homelessness in recent years.