City leaders address panhandler complaints in downtown Knoxville

Market Square

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – City leaders in Knoxville listened to concerns and took action after a number of complaints recently about people aggressively begging.

Knoxville police officers issued aggressive panhandling citations Friday to four different people. No one was arrested or taken into custody, but are facing a fine and a court date. The citations issued ranged from aggressive panhandling, obstructing traffic, public intoxication and an open container violation.

Knoxville police say they’re not increasing patrols downtown because of panhandling, but officers are now on bikes because the weather is getting nice. People in Market Square say since it’s getting warmer they’re being approached more.

“We love being downtown. We love having the dog park around,” said Molly Silvis with her pup. “We happened to pass by these two guys who were each sitting in their own space on the sidewalk on a bench or whatever, and they had asked us for spare change.”

To stop that kind of behavior, Knoxville has an ordinance where it is unlawful for someone to panhandle after sunset and before sunrise, within 20 feet of a sidewalk cafe or outdoor dining area, along with a number of other guidelines.

Read the ordinance: General Solicitation Restrictions

“I usually hear, ‘Hey do you have money?’ or ‘Hey do you have any extra food you can give?'” said Aaron Browne.

Some, like Jeanne White, wonder if the ordinance works. “I think just telling a panhandler they need to move on is as effective as giving them a $50 fine because they probably won’t pay it anyway.”

She adds any way the city tries to help is a good move. It’s suggested if someone asking for money or food is aggressive it is okay to report it to the Knoxville Police Department.

“I’ve never felt particularly uncomfortable or approached in a way that made me feel unsafe,” added Silvis.

Most say they’re always reminded this time of year that there’s a difference between homelessness and panhandling, and those words are not interchangeable.

“I always feel bad for them but at the same time I know I can’t give every single person that asks,” said Browne.

Knox Area Rescue Ministries says instead of giving cash, it’s okay to offer a bottle of water or food. The best advice is directing them to KARM for meals and shelter, along with resources.

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