What they are Saying

I’ve begun hearing from some of the people I’ve contacted and it looks like a united front, so far, on the side of not giving money. Still, there are a few nuances I’ll try to tease out as we consider (or at least I do :-)) what our response might be. There are four days left to respond to the poll and I hope you’ll all do that. The answers are spreading out a bit, though most of us, so far, are in the mode of avoiding eye contact and moving on.

Daryll Rasnake, a Pastor at Church Street United Methodist, works daily with homeless persons. Church Street maintains an open door policy so, often, those entering are homeless. Whenever someone panhandles at the church he engages them and offers help. He feels that once money is given, an expectation follows and aggressive behavior often results at any subsequent denial. His advice is never to give money and he relates a story of a homeless person who died last winter after getting money on Cumberland that was used to get drunk and later, in his drunkenness, a candle was overturned and he died inside his tent. Clearly this was not the intention of the person who gave the money, but it happened all the same.

He continues . . .

“So what is the best alternative? I believe it is to engage in a relationship. . . This can be to simply have a conversation and try to talk about what the real need is. If the real need is food, first realize that food is pretty readily available in Knoxville. . . Offer to buy a meal and bring it back. . . Never offer a ride or go alone even with someone who looks harmless. If you’re in a group, invite them to join you . . . never ever give money for prescriptions or medications. . .we often get requests for bus fare on KAT. . . KAT passes are sold at the transfer station for $0.50 on the dollar and thereby become currency. . . I will never say to someone I don’t have cash because frankly that is a lie. . . I want to treat our homeless friends as human beings deserving of our best care and concern. It is the flippant response that is so often expected and given (avoidance or the quick handout) that creates a situation of devaluing their humanity.”

Bill Shiell, Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church said none of the above options work every time, because situations are each different. . . He says he never gives cash. He continues, “If there is time, I talk, assess, and treat them as I would anyone else who wants to stop and talk. If there is a request for food, I suggest places where they can find food that’s available. We have about 6 free meals daily in downtown Knoxville that I’m aware of. If it’s shelter, I suggest where they can find shelter. After that, it depends on the situation . . .”

Ginny Weatherstone, Chief Executive Officer, Volunteer Ministries Center, says she discourages people from giving money, but suggests giving them information as to where they “might receive help.”

She continues: “. . . many of Knoxville’s panhandlers are not homeless and it’s not accurate to assume that they are. . . there are adequate services in Knoxville to meet the immediate needs of the homeless. . . Three meals a day are served at KARM and you do not have to be enrolled in a program to get a meal there. . . other agencies serve meals, VMC being one of them, but they may require you to be involved with particular programming. . . They have options without resorting to panhandling.

“One of the scenarios you mentioned was about a woman who said that she was refused help with her medication because she had a home in Townview Towers. Specifically, she stated that VMC said they could not help because she has a home. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, VMC has a particular program, the Bush Family Refuge, that helps people who are marginally housed . . . Quite often I hear that someone told an individual that they were refused services, etc. and it is simply not true. One strategy is to offer to call the agency and inquire for them. When this offer is made, the story sometimes changes or the person goes away. . . It is widely known that we (verify stories); sometimes people will say that VMC refused to help and that is true; their story simply did not check out.
“Most agencies will welcome your inquiring on behalf of someone you might encounter. Do not hesitate to call them. And instead of giving to panhandlers, I suggest that you contribute to the agencies that serve the poor and homeless. Speaking for VMC, I would invite you to make an appointment for a tour and to learn more about how we work with people in need.

“The line I usually use is simply “I’m sorry, I don’t give to panhandlers. If you truly want help, I’ll be glad to tell you where you can go but I won’t give you any money.”

Finally, another comment was posted on the original story. In case you missed it, the person stated that they had talked to the same person I had who told the story about the prescription and hungry children at home. This commenter said that she (he) finds it hard to give money to people who rehearse a story and tell it over and over.

So, there you are. There is still time to participate in the poll or to comment below. I’m not going to stay on this topic forever, but I felt it was important enough to entertain for a few days. I’ll wrap it up, soon,and give some final thoughts. I’m still waiting to hear from the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Catholic churches, should they care to join the discussion.

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