KARM responds to influx of hate calls about overpass homeless camp

Local News

The CEO of Knox Area Rescue Ministries wrote an op-ed piece in the Knoxville News Sentinel due to the influx of hate calls and emails about the people experiencing homelessness under the overpass on Broadway. 

“We were seeing a pretty significant uptick in the number of hate calls and the number of emails asking us when we were going to clean up our trash across the street,” said KARM CEO Burt Rosen. “We weren’t hearing, ‘When is the city going to do something to address it?’ It was, ‘When is KARM going to clean up their mess?'”

That “mess”‘ they were referring to is the population of people experiencing homelessness under the I-40 overpass on Broadway, right across the street from KARM. 

“He gets those calls I’m sure because people associate what happens outside his doors with the services he provides inside,” says Mike Dunthorn, City of Knoxville’s homeless programs coordinator. 

What those people often don’t see is what goes on within the walls of KARM – the 350-400 men, women and children who sleep there each and every night because they, too, are experiencing homelessness. 

“Those are folks who want to be here, who need our help and are desiring our help, but there’s another group of folks across the street who don’t want that help. But the assumption is they are all KARM’s, so we wanted to set the record straight,” says Rosen. “Many of the folks underneath the bridge either do not want the help or the magnetic pull that keeps them underneath there is such that if they were seeking help, they’d be ostracized. And that’s pretty difficult when you’re on the street.”

Technically, the property belongs to the City of Knoxville and the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Right now the city is working with TDOT to get an agreement in place to turn that area into a safe daytime space with tables, guards, port-a-potties and two additional outreach social workers who will continue to try and get more people off the streets. 

“But it will only be a daytime space. We are not creating a sanctioned camp,” says Dunthorn. 

“And then the big question is, where will they go when that space closes?” asked Rosen. 

“Everybody is a human. Every person is somebody’s son or daughter, brother or sister, mother or father,” says Dunthorn. “And as a community that cares about people, we have to care about everybody.” 

According to the Knoxville Community Dashboard on Homelessness, the two primary causes of homelessness in our area are mental health and a lack of affordable housing. 

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