Charles Ervin, Long Term Old City Personality, Dies

Charles Ervin, Old City, Knoxville, March 2016

Charles Ervin, Old City, Knoxville, March 2016

While others around downtown have known him much longer and better than me, I met him last spring as I photographed the proposed site for a community garden. Reclined on an old fire escape on the backside of an industrial building, crutches due to recent surgery leaning nearby, it was easy to sense his warmth.

I squatted against the building as he told me about his life. He’d had the surgery, he pointed out and the leg made getting odd jobs more difficult. He talked about a job he could have had at a call center in west Knoxville, but the bus didn’t go close enough to get him to work. He told me about attending Knox Life church in the Bijou and about a video a student made of him.

He really wanted me to see that video, which he had on an old computer he kept at Adorn Decor. Sadly, the other times I saw him, I was hurrying on my way and I never took the time. I should have sat with him and let him show me his video. He commented – without judgement – that I was always in a hurry.

He also told me about his children and grandchildren. He was proud of them, but said he could never impose on them to help him. He felt he would be a burden. We talked about him getting a bike and  he told me he lived under the nearby overpass. I asked if I could take the photographs you see here and he agreed. He gave his trademark smile in one of them, missing teeth and all.

We spoke many times in the subsequent months. I saw him election night and he introduced himself to Urban Woman, commenting he’d never seen me with her before. The last time I saw him was November 18, five or six days before he was found dead. We spoke as he passed the alley beside Java. I explained who he was to Preston and Mitchell and they indicated maybe they could give him some work.

Thanksgiving Day after having a meal with friends at a Lake House, we returned to downtown and as I walked downtown Gay Street, I stopped to talk to one of the cooks from Five, to ask about their Thanksgiving meal. It’s free, donations accepted and draws a large group of homeless patrons as well as many from downtown who share a meal with them. He said it went well and one particular homeless group lingered.

He said he felt like they needed a place to be together. He said they’d lost one of their own and seemed to be mourning the loss. I asked him who had died and my breath caught when he said, “Charles.” The street is a hard place to live, so it shouldn’t be shocking, but it shocked me nonetheless. I hadn’t thought of him as in such poor health.

Charles Ervin, Old City, Knoxville, March 2016

Charles Ervin, Old City, Knoxville, March 2016

Various people who knew Charles began to ask questions online as word circulated. Michael Haynes heard he might have died and asked, starting a conversation that included Gloria Johnson, who confirmed it. She said he got his mail in the Knox County Democratic Party offices at nearby Morgan Street. His sister called their office because their number was in his pocket when he died.

She said she, “met Charles when I was KCDP Chair and we were remodeling our new office. He was always willing to work and was quite skilled when it came to putting up walls and laying tile. He has gotten his mail there ever since summer of 2009. He stopped by almost every day to say hi and see if there was any work to be done. We tried to make sure he had the essentials he needed. He always asked about my family and I was hoping to see him last week because I figured he would be looking for extra cash to go see his family in Delaware. I could always count on Charles for a big smile each day! Broke my heart today to find out his family had no idea about his life and would have done anything to help him if they knew.”


Charles Ervin (Photo Courtesy of Allen Halcomb)

Allen Halcomb who knew him from both the Old City and through Knox Life Church posted this remembrance on Let’s Talk Knoxville:

“We lost a good friend this week. Charles Ervin. I am a better person because I knew him. He was full of personality and he challenged my way of thinking about people with struggles that I don’t have. He was a regular attendee of Knox Life Church, and later Awaken City Church in the Old City. Everyone there knew Charles. He was an unofficial greeter, always with a big smile on his face. On testimony days, he was front and center to share what God was doing for him.

“He spoke of his faith in Jesus Christ. He was kind to everyone. The bench at Jackson and Central was his daytime post. Recently, he had just gotten over a broken leg and had begun to do odd jobs around the Old City again. He was a weekly sidewalk sweeper. The great guys at Java would loan him their broom.

“He had been a truck driver in earlier years. He spent part of his youth growing up in Jamaica. He has children and grandchildren. The grandchildren called him Pop Pop when they would call him on his cell phone. He would smile from ear to ear to tell me this. Sometimes they would call at night to try to get him to tell their mommy it wasn’t time for bed. He reassured me that he insisted they listen to mommy. He spoke with excited anticipation of a daughter and her husband that would come in town to pick him up on occasions for visits.

“He lived below the bridge behind the dog park and slept in an army issue sleeping bag in a tent. He had few possessions, but he was always stylishly dressed. He could turn $10 into a whole new outfit.

“We are all made in the image of God, and He sees us all with equal value. Charles, you were the handiwork of a glorious creator. So long friend.”

I also heard from Erin Hall who’d gotten word and messaged me to confirm. She met him while she worked at Rocky Top Crossfit when it was located on Central. She said, “Charles…was such a good one. Always had that smile. That huge, amazing, warm smile. Even when he was down, even when he was having a bad day (and Lord knows he’s probably had bad days that my bad days can’t imagine) – even then, if I passed by and said hello, he’d look up and put on that amazing smile. He worked for us, at Rocky Top CrossFit. He cleaned our floors once a week. He did such a great job! I’d make him tea with honey, and he’d listen to 90’s hip hop.”

I contacted Sean Alsobrooks, long time minister at Knox Life who said, “Charles was part of our Knoxlife Community and a downtown neighbor for many years. We certainly had our challenges and growth opportunities with Charles over the years, but overall he was a good guy and we will miss him for sure. He was always willing to stick around and help out and had a loud, vibrant laugh that made you smile when you heard it.”

Charles will be missed by many and remembered and mourned by more than he might have realized. If anyone knows of plans to collect money to defray funeral costs or plans for a memorial service, please post it in a comment below.


  1. Shocked! Didn’t need this reminder that life is short. Thinking of all who loved him.

  2. Such sad news. I always looked forward to seeing him, he always asked how my shop was and how my kids were doing. He was such a friendly person. He will be missed.

  3. Very interested in helping to create a memorial service. Please reply if anyone has already started something.

    • There is a homeless memorial walk every year. I think the homeless coalition puts it on. He will be remembered there.

  4. I spoke with Berry Funeral Home and Charles has been cremated and sent to Wilmington, DE into sister’s care.

    Cards can be sent to Berry Funeral Home 3704 Chapman Hwy, Knoxville, TN 37920 and will be forwarded to his sister in DE

  5. Michaelemery Delaney says

    I always called him Charles Delaney, cause he looked like my folks…We were in jail together, and laughed harder than Chinese Algebra! Charles was the unjudgemental, loving spirit of Knoxville… He deserves a statue downtown…

  6. I was so sad to hear about Charles. I hadn’t seen him in a week or so and was wondering where he was. He certainly was a fixture around the Jig and Reel, and I’m not sure I’ll ever stop looking for him. God speed, Charles.

  7. No! I’ve been missing him on my walks and I was just telling a friend that I hadn’t seen him in a little while. This is terrible news! November 2016 just keeps getting worse.

  8. Thank you for writing this. I know life like his can be pretty hard, but it comes as a bit of a shock. I saw him sometime in the last couple weeks, he stopped by where I work and talked to his mom on the phone for a bit. He seemed in good health, and was as always in very good spirits. Downtown Knoxville will not be the same without him.

  9. Meghan McDonald says

    Thank you for writing this. I work in the Old City and saw Charles regularly. I will miss our chats, his ready smile and jokes, and also his authenticity. When either of us said, “How are you?” I felt like I could be honest, and I felt like he knew he could be honest with me too. We didn’t talk according to a script. It felt real to me in a way that with so many people, it doesn’t.

  10. Camille Crumpton says

    If anyone has any word of a memorial, I’ll be there.

  11. I am planning a memorial service for Charles at Awaken Coffee Shop on Jackson Avenue. It will be this Sunday, Dec. 4 at 1:30 pm following the regular church service (starts at 11:30). All are welcome. I’m sure there will be a long line of people who would like to say a few kind words about Charles. I am going to setup a donation jar and send the funds to his mother and family to help offset the funeral costs. I’ve been in contact with his sister Mimi, and she’s provided her mother’s address.

  12. That is very unfortunate. I just saw Charles recently and he seemed in normal health to me. I’ve spent combined hours sitting on the bench and talking with him in front of Jig and Reel.

  13. Lauren Smith says

    Charles has done plenty of work for us at all of our old city bars and Davincis pizzeria. This is sad news to all of us. Thank you so much for sharing this! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help with a memorial service!

  14. Scott Carpenter says

    Thanks for this remembrance of Charles. He had a mile wide personality to go with that smile. RIP.

  15. I’m shocked to read this. Thank you for posting. Buck and I met Charles over 3 years ago. I’ve had plans to turn some of his comments into a comic. I may finally have time to do that next year. We will miss him. He was very nice and we loved how expressive he was. Last time we saw him was at Java, when he had recently broken his leg. Gee wiz. I’m so sorry to hear this.

  16. Alan, these are great photos of Charles. I’m so glad you had an opportunity to meet him and to take these photos. I am so broken up about this.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I was a real blow to me, as well. I don’t intend to pretend we were close, but he stood out and it felt good having him there.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Thank you. It was a real blow to me, as well. I don’t intend to pretend we were close, but he stood out and it felt good knowing he was out there in the world.

    • Turner Howard says

      I greeted on Sunday’s at KnoxLife Church with Charles for 5 years. That experience was unique, because Charles was unique.

      What a greeting pair we were! Talk about polar opposites!? Here’s a homeless African-American man, insouciant in all matters material, taking sentry every week next to a quintessential West Knoxville lawyer, dressed in pressed shirt and khakis. And yet, somehow, it worked, these two in juxtaposition to each other. I know that those two to three hours with Charles in that role were often one of the highlights of my

      I will close with two of my more memorable escapades with Charles. He loved fellowship after church on Sundays, especially if that revolved around food. So, one Sunday, my wife, Janie, and I invited him to share a repast with us at Tomato Head’s brunch. Upon arrival there, his countenance was like that of one entering the pearly gates of heaven: He was giddy with anticipation. I’ve never witnessed such a small, lean person put away so much food in one sitting. We were made very happy because he was beside himself with delight.

      During that time I had fulfilled a lifelong dream of driving a Porsche, a 911 Turbo one at that. Charles literally salivated over it every Sunday while we were greeting outside Remedy Coffee Shop. It was his tacit way ( if you can imagine? ) of soliciting a fast ride in it. I capitulated. The better part of discretion compels me not to reveal the speeds I reached on I-40W, but I can tell you that I never saw him enjoy himself more, hootin’ and hollerin’ and acting like a kid at the Fair, urging me ever more faster. All through to the end of our relationship, he never failed to remind me of how much he enjoyed that ride of his lifetime.

      It brings me great joy that I gave this lovable denizen of the Old City two of his life’s best moments.

      May you rest in peace, Charles.

  17. Tim Robinson says

    Love to walk downtown Knoxville — the vibrant, night life, the beauty of the streets — and on occasion I’ve spoken with a man with a mellifluous voice — beautifully articulate and extraordinarily mannered. I discover to my great sadness that I will not have the good fortune of his warm spirit any longer.

  18. This was quite a shock to those of us at Odle & Young Architects. Charles was a regular here, usually coming by once a week or so to do odd jobs or wash cars. And to talk. He will be missed.

  19. Jennifer Jones says

    Thank you Allen again for your kind words…. I wish everyone who was interviewed for this article was willing to see his true beauty. I know where he is and I know he is dancing and singing with the Lord. Thank you Charles for showing me a small piece of what heaven looks like.

  20. Jenny Wright says

    Thanks for sharing this story, Alan. I always loved seeing Charles and his smiling face near Jackson and Central.

  21. Terry Hickman says

    Wow! So shocked to hear that Charles has passed away. When my daughter, Emily and I first visited Knoxlife, Charles was the first to extend his hand and welcome us in. So sorry that he has gone. Never saw him without that big friendly smile. Oh yes, and a big hug for every lady.

  22. Jennifer Mirtes says

    Did you ever find the video of his life? We lost a good one.

  23. Your story popped up in my newsfeed and I have to say, I am completely shocked and filled with sadness. I was part of Knox Life Church and Charles would always tease me if I missed a couple of Sundays. He also had the biggest smile and the best hugs. I never saw him in a bad mood, no matter his situation.

  24. I saw him just last week, and he looked ok , I talked to him in front of my work down town months ago he. was looking for work. I didn’t see him at karms last week and I hope he was saved. only god and Charles knows that. . he could had a bed every night at karms. and food they would have helped him out like the do every one.We all will pass way by death sooner or later and then judgement . I hope he received jesus as he person saver

  25. God’s speed Charles!

    I immediately miss you!

  26. Ruth Burchfield says

    Thank you to all who befriended this gentleman. I did not know him but I do believe he like all are children of God. Also, thank you Alan for starting a conversation and giving those who did know him an opportunity to share with us who did not insite into the life of only one of the many homeless that roam the streets of Knoxville. Evidently, many of us missed a golden opportunity to meet Charles Ervin.

  27. Amanda Sturgill says

    Charles was my friend, my brother in Christ!! I moved to Knoxville 5 years ago and found the church knoxlife. Charles was one of the first people I met here. The moment I met him it felt like I had know him my whole life. Each Sunday I would look forward to our conversations. He started inviting me to go eat with him and a couple guys he know after church at Chandler’s. He talked both those boys into trying a big bite of chittlens.. he and I both watch intentionally to see their reaction, Charles n that big ole smile. One day no one was going to eat but he still wanted me to go with him, no worries man let’s do this.. We got in my car right out of church n he said, “hell yeah, I made $150 this week n I can pay for Ur food too.” Wow, a homeless man that has nothing to his name offers to buy my food! That moment I learned what an amazing soul, person, friend, and human that I have the honor to know. I could keep on and on about our time together, he made me appreciate life and friends a little more every time I got hang with him. It was truly an honor to know you Charles!

    • ya I heard words like that come out of his mouth, and he was talking about another homeless guy that I was going to help out with some shoes , and he was going off about that , don’t know why but , this guy was bare foot and no shirt lost over thing and I told him to go to karms for some food and a bed. and Charles got mad and started going off at the mouth with some of them bad words and I’m a god loving person and I had to walk away and with hearing them words come out of his mouth I should have stoped him from talking like that. but I never knew he went to church. I wished I could have talked to him about jesus and the way you must walk like him. tame that tongue the bible speaks of. don’t know if he was saved or not I’m not the judge. some people belive just say this after me and your saved not true you must know and understanding your a sinner and understand what jesus did for us all .I tell every body that is lost to go to church so they can hear the gospel, the bible says how can a man be saved if he doesn’t hear the gospel. and gods spirit will convict you of your sins and belive in him and have fath and trust in jesus and surrender all to him and walk as jesus did.

  28. Randy Walker says

    Charles was an active campaigner in my campaign against Stacy Campfield putting up my signs and keeping my name out in the city. I talk about him on many occasions. So sorry to hear aboiut this. May God rest his soul. – Randy Walker

  29. Charles worked for us for a time. We tried to set him up in an apartment, but he wanted no part of it. We possibly gave him that tent. We gave him other things, but found out quickly that if he had something that others would hurt him to get it. As we saw lots of hospital time. Bless his heart. He was a wonderful man.

    • Nekia simon says

      Hello my name is Nekia Simon and Charles was my Dad my everything and I have dome questions about you comment will you please contact me

      • Nekia,
        I have know Charles for several years. He did work for me on a fairly regular basis at the Rogers Building in Knoxville. Are you one of the daughters in Atlanta or do your live elsewhere? I think Charles told me he had 5 children in all.

        Feel free to contact me directly. His passing was indeed a suprize. I had just seen him and talked with him the week prior. He was planning a Christmas trip away from Knoxville, probably to be with his mother.


        • nekia simon says

          hello yes I’m am his the third oldest child . yes his plans as I know he was going to visit my grandmother how may I contact you

          • By e-mail –
            By phone or text

          • Nekia,
            someone from the office of disability contacted me regarding Charles’ application for disability. They are seeking family contact information, primarily his mother, but we have none. Call me (865/803-4237) or contact me ( if you wish to follow up on this, or call the Knox Disability Office @ 865/585-7513. Ask to speak to Judy Edwards.

  30. Another memorial hosted by ‘Go and Love’ and Vineyard Knoxville:

    Charles Erwin, long-time friend and attendee of Knoxlife, died last week. Anyone who spent time with Charles knows that he loved to visit and talk, and he loved to do so over a meal.
    You’re invited to a time of remembrance and picnic-style pot luck in honor of Charles. join us in Krutch Park on Wednesday, December 7th at 12:30 pm. You’re welcome to bring your favorite dish to share.
    We also encourage you to send notes and cards of encouragement to Charles’ mother, Catherine:
    Catherine Erwin
    2113 Jessup Street
    Wilmington, Delaware 19802

  31. So many lives touched by Charles…a memorial and picnic style pot luck is taking place at Krutch Park on Wednesday, December 7th as well as the other events planned for our resident local downtown.

  32. At Krutch Park
    December 7th

  33. Megan Lappas says

    FYI– There is also a Homeless Memorial Service on 12/22 at 6pm at St. John’s church. It starts in the VMC parking log and folks who attend walk down in front of Salvation Army, cross and walk in front of KARM, and have a very special service at St. John’s Lutheran on Broadway. Anyone is welcome to come. We recognize any homeless person (or formerly homeless) who died within the year. Charles will definitely be mentioned.

  34. Camille Crumpton says

    Just an idea, but I thought it would be nice if we could collect some money for a small plaque to go on a bench in the Old City as a memorial, or something of the like. I don’t know about who owns benches (city or building owners), if this is even wanted, or how it would work, but it would be nice to have a place to put a flower in his memory in our city.

  35. Jaclyn Levy says

    I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him, but thank you for this beautiful tribute to his spirit.

  36. Tiana winter says

    Truly beautiful
    Thank you allen

  37. JustThisLady says

    I wish the city would come together and help get some of the homeless people into houses. There are 5 homes for every homeless person, why do we not use initiative and community effort to save some lives?

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