Giving money to panhandlers: Where does it go?

(WBIR-Knoxville) As the holidays draw near, drivers may feel generous to give a spare dollar to a person in need, panhandling with cardboard signs -- drawing your attention and sympathy.

"There's a lot of people I know that's trying to help me out," said Ray Farmer, a panhandler who frequents the Cedar Bluff exit on I-40. "Lots of regular people that know me and trying to help me."

There are so many stories from these individuals -- as to how they got in this situation, and moreso what they want to do with your money.

"(I get) five dollars. Sometimes at the end of the week you get a 20," Farmer added. "I have been given $100 a couple of times."

He says he uses it to help his brother and to get something to eat. However, others have different purposes for that money collected.

"Of course, you drink some because that's the only way you can muster it up to do this,"said panhandler Daniel.

He collects money to help with his girlfriend's pregnancy since he does not have a job or a permanent place to live. He said the first few dollars go to alcohol, and then the rest go to food and getting money for a hotel.

"It's embarrassing; would you like to do this?" he added.

Daniel told us sometimes he would make $25 in a one day span. Other times $25 in a minute -- saying each day is different.

"There are people who do it everyday, and they have no problem with it," Daniel said.

One of those individuals is a gentleman who called himself "Caveman." 10News caught up with him and few of his friends by the Lovell Road overpass in West Knox County.

He was there for several days, spending part of the time by the road and the other half at the stoop of the Concord Mennonite Church.

With him on one occasion were several cases of Natural Light beer and another time, a bottle of vodka.

"I want to buy me some beer and some food with that," he said, pointing out the money he collected in one round of panhandling.

He said he does not feel bad buying the case of vodka.

"No I don't feel bad about it. I didn't ask them, I asked God for it," 'Caveman' added.

Minutes later, to show that the money he gets from others is for his use - he lights a $5 bill on fire.

"If God didn't give it to you, it don't make what the (expletive) it is," he said.

Shelters cannot give a precise number on the amount of panhandlers in Knox County, but reminds the public to be aware if individuals are telling the truth or not.

Officials with KARM told 10News to not give money to panhandlers -- strictly because the public does not know what panhandlers will do with that money.

Instead, they recommend giving snacks or clothing to the needy. Several churches have even distributed to their parishioners Ziploc bags with an assortment of items to leave in their cars. If they see a panhandler, to give the bagged items instead of cash.

The City of Knoxville has rules on what panhandlers can do. Passed in 2006, they include the following:

  • After sunset and before sunrise
  • By repeatedly asking a person
  • Using abusive language or profanity
  • In an aggressive manner in a public area
  • In parking lots or garages owned by the City of Knoxville
  • On private property if the owner has a sign posted or has asked the person to stop
  • From motorists in traffic
  • From persons waiting in line to be admitted to a commercial establishment
  • By falsely representing why they are seeking money
  • Or within 20 feet of: a crosswalk, an entrance or exit of any bank or check cashing business, an ATM, public restrooms, pay phones, sidewalk cafĂ© or outdoors dining area, a bus stop or bus station

All of the panhandlers 10News spoke with all said one thing: they don't want to be in this situation.

"I rather feel good about myself, but I'm just doing what I have to do," Daniel said.


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