Tuesday, December 27, 2011


In Krutch Park on Christmas day I met Edna, originally from the Bronx. She says she is "retired" and "I pick up my checks at the Social Security office and cash them at the grocery store." She said she wasn't hungry, but "I haven't had a hot meal all day and that's not good." She was hoping a couple of guys from Kentucky who had given her a ride the day before would show up again and take her, along with her considerable baggage, to the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission for their 5:15 PM meal.

She said she isn't homeless, a claim which seemed to rest on the evidence that she sometimes "gets a hotel room." She lamented the expense of doing so, saying, "hotels in west Knoxville charge $70 a night and somebody told me the Crowne Plaza charges $90 or more." She speculated about the people living in the Holston Building adjacent to where she sat. She'd heard some paid "nine-hundred or a thousand dollars a month rent for just one or two bedrooms." She seemed to think that was absurd.

She told me she sometimes sleeps in the First Tennessee Plaza where there are a couple of benches and shelter from the wind. She wished she was in Florida, but was glad she wasn't in New York City. All she really needed, she told me, was a taxi to take her and her belongings to KARM for that meal. She had their number and I called her a taxi. She said she had the money, but I gave her the couple of crumpled dollars in my pocket.

I know we aren't supposed to give money to panhandlers, but she never asked for anything but a ride. I also know that I had a nice Christmas, probably spending more money on gifts than she gets in months of social security checks. I have a home, hot food when I want it and I'm safe when I lie down at night. She's probably cold tonight and she's never certain that she's safe.

I know the problem of homelessness is complex far beyond my understanding. Still, it is hard for me to reconcile that the wealthiest nation in history which claims to follow a religion based on helping the least among us can't do a better job than what we are doing to help these fellow citizens. I'm not sure we really care as a society.

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At December 27, 2011 at 11:12 AM , Blogger Andrea said...

This is a nice post. I'm glad you helped her out. It's a shame our elderly and mentally disabled are living on the streets. We should do better for them in America.

At December 27, 2011 at 9:19 PM , Blogger caroleann said...

A lovely portrait of a touching encounter.

At December 28, 2011 at 1:40 PM , Anonymous jim w said...

I can't speak for other homeless individuals, but I have had experiences with Edna. Bottom line is the city has tried many times to get her into housing, and she just refuses. While she does not ask for money, she does have a way to get money, rides etc from many who encounter her in the park. Bottom line is she wants help but on her own terms. She is not a menace, but using the bushes in Krutch park to do her business is not right either. She knows how to play the system.

At December 28, 2011 at 3:33 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Thanks everybody, and thanks Jim. It sounds like you know her pretty well. You have to wonder what makes a person chose to stay on the street if they have an alternative. Obviously Edna isn't mentally sound in some respects and that probably has something to do with it. Like I said, it is very complicated. I am curious: how is she "playing the system" if she refuses the city's help?

At December 28, 2011 at 7:40 PM , Anonymous jim w said...

When the city gets a call about Edna (or others I assume) they respond with a social worker...they all know her...they help her with food, a shower, clean her clothes, all under the pretext that she will move to an apartment they find for her...then she backs out as she knows the city cannot force her into a housing situation, and then the cycle is repeated, per my discussions with the social worker who last tried to help.

At December 30, 2011 at 10:09 AM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

The question that is difficult for me is, "why?" I understand some younger people chose to drift around and be homeless. There are some groups of these guys who have drifted through the city and they are pretty aggressive. But why would a woman of Edna's age not avail herself of housing if offered? I guess there isn't a good answer.

At January 1, 2012 at 12:15 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone asked Edna "WHY" or even "WHY NOT?", and then LISTENED TO HER?

At January 2, 2012 at 5:31 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

It's not a bad question. Surely she has been asked. The dilemma is that her answer doesn't have to make sense. As long as she isn't a danger to herself or others she gets to live on the street. I would guess her answer would involve delusions or hallucinations. Maybe I'll ask her if I find her again.


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