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'Say No To Panhandling.' Signs in Cookeville beg drivers to donate to nonprofits, not panhandlers

No panhandling in Cookeville
Posted at 8:20 PM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 21:20:43-04

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In Cookeville, city leaders report a number of people experiencing homelessness are turning down services because panhandling pays too well.

"If the money dries up and they can’t make a living doing that perhaps they will choose a new route," said Mayor Ricky Shelton.

Mayor Ricky Shelton and a number of nonprofit organizations are behind new signs that encourage drivers to give to charity instead.

The signs read 'Say no to panhandling. Contribute to the solution. Give to charities.'

After the pandemic and tornado last year, there is an increased number of people struggling to make ends meet in Cookeville. According to the Substance Abuse Solutions program at Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, their agency alone has helped 196 homeless people since September.

"We want them to know, if you come here we’re going to find help for you. That’s the important distinction. We’re not going to enable a bad behavior. We’re going help a behavior be possible through our programs," Shelton said.

Luke Eldridge, with Substance Abuse Solutions, canvases Cookeville talking to people experiencing homelessness. In his recent audit, a number of people denied his help because they prefer panhandling.

"Panhandlers see nothing wrong with it," Luke Eldridge said. "We’ve got to rethink how we’re working with the homeless."

The signs, at interstate ramps and street corners, come on the heels of two dozen cases of aggressive panhandling reported to police.