The city of Cookeville has begun installing signs that discourage motorists from giving cash to panhandlers.
The signage located on popular intersections and roads such as the I-40 Highway 111 intersection. The metal signs state, “Say no to panhandling, contribute to the solution, give to charities.”
Mayor Ricky Shelton said it is an attempt to find an answer to a growing problem.
“If there was a good solution, it would already be happening in places,” Shelton said. “And so you want to be cognizant of people and their need and you want to be cognizant of safety. Those are both issues.”
Shelton said the main premise is to encourage residents to give to local organizations that support panhandlers while avoiding interactions that could lead to dangerous situations.
“Back when we first looked at this last fall, there were a number of statistics related to folks, police reports about panhandling,” Shelton said. “That was like standing in the roadway or stepping out in the road and cause the person to swerve or they threw a rock at a vehicle or a dog jumping on a car with the person banging on the window asking for money. There is a whole myriad of issues that have happened to people within those police reports referencing to panhandling.”
Shelton said administration and the city council have looked at panhandling from a global viewpoint to try to find a solution. Shelton said the issue is a complicated one that extends further than just Cookeville.
“This isn’t just a Cookeville, Putnam County problem,” Shelton said. “These are issues that are happening across Tennessee, and honestly all over the country for various reasons, and it is not just a one reason or one issue. There are many things that lead to these type of situations.”
In the past year, Cookeville has tried to address panhandling in another way by considering an ordinance regulating the action within public right-of-ways. The language was deemed unconstitutional by the city attorney and ultimately did not pass.
Efforts continued in a different way when the city partnered with UCHRA. Shelton said the two groups created a social work and police partnership that provides free social services.
“That is something in the last 10 months 201 individuals in the city have been provided some kind of assistance through the SAS program,” Shelton said. “Actually, the city has renewed that contract to help. The big thing was to let people know that we are trying to address this.”
Shelton said the city has also donated some 20 beds to the Cookeville Rescue Mission to aid the situation. Shelton said addressing panhandling will be an ongoing conversation among city officials with the overall goal to give opportunities of self-sustainment.