KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Some people have noticed new signs around downtown Knoxville, warning people not to give money to panhandlers. They read, “Please say no to panhandling, there’s a better way to help.”
They can be found in some of the most popular parts of the city, including Market Square, Knoxville’s Old City, and along Gay Street. Along with the warning, is a QR code that people can scan to donate to a bucket fund organized by the United Way of Greater Knoxville. Those funds help a handful of organizations that all work to combat homelessness.
The Chief Strategy Officer with United Way explained this is a joint effort with the City of Knoxville and the Downtown Knoxville Alliance.
“We have a lot of great nonprofits and organizations in our community that are already working to address the issues facing people experiencing homelessness in Knoxville,” said Brewton Couch.
Couch said this bucket fund is the best way to combat homeless in long term. “You’re really addressing more of the holistic problem as opposed to the individual,” she said.
Drew Ellis who lives in Knoxville has some questions. “Giving that $10 to somebody that maybe is looking for a warm meal that night rather than giving it to an organization,” Ellis said. “That guy is hungry right now.”
Ellis said she wants people to donate to those organizations, but doesn’t understand why discouraging giving to those with an immediate need is necessary.
“It suggests you not to give to somebody who is asking for money or whatever,” she said. “That’s just an immediate short-term need that they are just looking to fulfill and I don’t think we should be denying that to somebody.”
Rick Emmett, the City of Knoxville’s Downtown and Urban Core Coordinator, said people need to remember not all panhandlers are homeless.
“In fact, quite a few of them are not homeless,” said Emmett. “It’s really kind of hard to make that distinction.”
Emmett said this system helps streamline the donations, making sure it helps those with a true need. He also said it can push people to get help if they are struggling with addiction.
“Whenever you give to somebody like that you may just be enabling that behavior to continue and it’s going to be to their detriment and to the detriment of all of us,” he said.
He said the goal is to help the city’s homeless, while also making sure those who live and visit the downtown area can help in a safe and efficient way.
If citizens have concerns or questions, they are asked to reach out to the City’s Office of Homelessness.
Editor’s note: a previous version of this story incorrectly identified the funding source of the signage. The issue has been corrected.