It’s been quite I while since I wrote anything significant on homelessness. Two years ago a wrote a series on the topic starting here, then here, here, here and concluding here. Of course, I’ve focused on homeless individuals or had a partial post about homelessness a number of other times. It’s part of the reality of living in any city and ours is certainly no different.
While it may seem overwhelming to someone who doesn’t typically leave the suburbs, it’s easy for those of us who live in the city to essentially stop seeing our homeless residents. They become part of the background of what we really want to see. It’s easy to brush them aside after a while. Many of them become familiar. Maybe familiar irritants as we scurry past them on a sidewalk, through the square or a park. It’s something that is never far from my mind.
Given my interest in the people on our streets, I turned the radio up one recent morning when driving to work. Someone from the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission was talking about an event, called the “KARM Camp Out,” that would happen that evening on the World’s Fair Park. I gathered that it would involve spending the night outside and that the intent was to bring attention to homelessness, so I made a mental note to stop by.
I found a few dozen campers and their tents or other shelter scattered about the World’s Fair Park. Christabel and the Jons prepared to play from the stage that was set up next to the Clinch Avenue viaduct. Free Green Mountain coffee was served. An informational booth was set up to answer the questions of potential campers or the random blogger that might pass through.
UT basketball players were on hand briefly. Some signed autographs. I heard one lamenting the fact that this was how they were spending their Friday night. They left early after being informed their cars were parked illegally. I wondered why the would not have walked from UT campus.
Ultimately I connected with Sue Renfro, the Marketing Director for the Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries. She explained a bit of what was happening and was very gracious. We exchanged cards and agreed that I needed the press packet to really understand what they were trying to do with the event. She said she would e-mail it to me and put me on their press list for distribution. Unfortunately, I never heard from her. I really would have liked a more detailed description of what they were trying to do.
I did take the opportunity to mention to her that what concerns me most on a day-to-day and personal basis is that I hate driving through the KARM section of Broadway. I don’t fear for my own safety, in fact, I prefer to walk through the area if I have to go that way. I fear for the safety of the clients of KARM and Volunteer Ministries as they wander across the street and often step into traffic. She told me that ground should be broken soon on a courtyard with seating just off the street which, hopefully, will help with the problem.
While I very much support the work of KARM and our other local agencies grappling with this seemingly intractable problem, I have to be honest and say that I left the event with mixed feelings, which is why I hoped to get the press kit, thinking it might help me sort out my ambivilence. It was just a bit too festive with plenty of food, music, great coffee, celebrities and even one travel trailer with a banner giving the number to call to own such a thing. What exactly was the connection to homelessness. Is homelessness nothing more than camping out with every convenience on a beautiful night?
Meanwhile in the city, Broadway is still filled with the aimless wanderings of people with empty eyes. If anything, I’ve been asked for money more often lately all around the center city. It’s a problem in need of many solutions. It’s a problem about which we all might play a part in its resolution. I’m not sure the event on the World’s Fair Park furthered the cause.