This time of year typically brings out the best in us and that includes the spirit of giving. But what should you do if you’re out shopping, eating or taking in the holiday lights and someone asks you for spare change?
Sometimes those conversations are unavoidable in downtown Knoxville and panhandling is not allowed in certain parts. Police officers and staff at area ministry centers say this time of year, you generally see more people asking for money simply because of the crowds.
“It’s really hard because I want to be able to help, but obviously you can’t help everybody,” said Kathryn Cozart who was walking through Market Square on Wednesday.
Knoxville Police Officer Thomas Clinton has been helping the homeless population going on four years. He says it’s a job that takes building trust.
While not everyone who panhandles is homeless, Officer Clinton suggests not giving cash if you’re asked.
“Giving them a couple of dollars now is not going to help them long-term,” he said.
It’s best to point people asking for money to KARM, Salvation Army, VMC or any other organization.
“Be courteous but say, ‘Hey I know KARM is feeding Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow or today.’ Then direct them to where services are because there is plenty available in this town for the homeless,” said Tony Harris, Director of Rescue at KARM.
There are rules not allowing people to ask for money within 20 feet of an open business, ATM or in a parking garage. If you’re uncomfortable, you should let officers know if someone is being aggressive.
“That’s where we get problems when people start stepping in front of you while you’re walking down the sidewalk or just hounding over and over again,” added Officer Clinton.
Some say showing respect is the easiest option.
“They’re no different. They’re our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in some cases, that are just down on their luck possibly and might need a hand up and there are ways of getting that hand,” said Harris.
While it’s hard saying no, Harris says you can help by volunteering or donating.
“Don’t shut your heart because of a few people.”
Another suggestion is to carry a small bag of snacks, toiletries, or bottled water with you. That way if you’re approached, you can pass it out if you don’t want to give cash.