Article and Photos by: Holly Rainey
Talking to people who live and work on the streets is easy because they normally initiate the conversation. I have been asked for money, food, and help in situations I know nothing about. Instead of quickly walking away and avoiding eye contact, I pull out my camera.
Alongside fellow photographer and Amplifier volunteer, Adam Scott, I interact with our homeless community. I want to know the people who are not confined by society’s structure. They work on the same street I do. I want to share the experiences of those in our community who call the streets of Knoxville home.
A multitude of different types of people are living and working on the streets in Knoxville. I have met veterans, children, alcoholics, artists, and divorcées. All of these people have one thing in common: they are all broke (but thankfully not broken).
Busking is the act of entertaining in a public space with the hopes of receiving donations. Busking is a common occurrence when the weather is nice and warm. You’ll be hard pressed to go to Market Square on a Saturday without hearing someone performing cover songs and seeing a guitar case filled with crinkled dollars bills. Busking is just one way I see people using their artistic talents to make some cash on the streets.
There are countless groups and organizations in Knoxville who are lending a helping hand to the homeless community. Soup kitchens open up every week, art classes are offered, emergency blankets are given, and even dental care is provided on certain days of the month. I see the same faces every week at these events because the homeless in Knoxville are truly a community. They work together, live together, and they have each other’s back. The homeless community depends on the organizations providing support as much as they depend on each other.
Every Wednesday of each month hundreds of people gather under the bridge near Blackstock Avenue. They gather for goods and supplies to keep warm when temperatures drop below freezing. They gather for shoes, hard-boiled eggs, back packs, worship, and BBQ on the third Wednesday.
Going under that same bridge during any other time of the week is a completely different situation. The first time I went under the bridge I met a woman who was chugging bottom shelf vodka. The last time I went under the bridge, this same woman, Volanda, fish-tail braided my hair. The tents and the occupants are always changing, moving around, and vacating the gravel lot under the bridge. However, there are a few people who permanently call this space home.
© Holly Rainey, 2014.