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.


Annie collecting money on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville. Annie can frequently be seen gathering spare change for a cup of coffee.

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).


Jeff Hopson sells The Amplifier during this past summer’s Farmers’ Market in Market Square. The Amplifier provides homeless and formally homeless people a way to make a living. The paper is used as a platform for issues of homelessness and poverty, and gives a voice to those in the homeless community.

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.


Busking on Gay Street.

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.


Mary making Christmas decorations with the ladies Bible study at Redeemer Church in Fort Sanders. Redeeming Hope Ministries hosts Food in the Fort on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. Anyone who needs groceries can be provided with some necessities. A warm meal and fellowship is provided on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month.


Timothy White, who hopes to contribute to The Amplifier in the future, leaves Church Street United Methodist on Henley Street. Church Street UMC provides a warm meal every Thursday to those who need it.

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.


A man lights a cigarette before Thanksgiving supper under the bridge. Lost Sheep Ministries provides those who need it with a warm meal, clothing, medical attention, and worship every Wednesday night under the bridge off of Blackstock Avenue near downtown Knoxville.

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.


Kyle Winstead tears up sharing his story about caring for his mother. Winstead, who is a former Marine, was born to a military family in Germany, and was later raised in Georgia. He moved to Knoxville to take care of his mother. Winstead makes his money by rolling and selling cigarettes, which is a common occupation. Cigarettes are in high demand under the bridge and it’s an easy way to make a profit. The money that Winstead makes, in addition to his food stamps, is used to support himself and his mother.

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© Holly Rainey, 2014.


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