By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — The heavy rains finally ended Saturday afternoon – opening the door to a harsh night for the homeless. Not only will they sleep on wet grass and concrete- but the temperature will also drop into the low twenties – it will be that way every night for the next seven nights with the overnight low only rising to 30 degrees until the next Saturday. For a city that has seen the homeless and houseless population grow since the pandemic and housing crisis – the situation is dire and life threatening. With no official warming shelters yet to be announced – many in the community have gone into action – trying to help as many as they can.
Many like Martha La- Rue Baker with Care Cuts Ministry and Ira Grimes with the Keenan Grimes Community Outreach Centers, who try to feed and house as many as possible in the spaces they own and willingly open their doors to save. Then there is Mike Wrinkle founder of the nonprofit, His Hands and Feet
Mike goes where few will follow: He has been in the streets for over 20 years. His heart is for all in crisis – especially the youth. With a keen ear and all-seeing eyes – he is a trusted messenger in the streets. He works hard to get as many youths as he finds off the streets and into safe harbor. That is not an easy thing to do as there are not enough places to take children as they age out of the foster homes. He finds them, or the streets tell him where they are- cold, alone, hungry, prey to every evil waiting for them. There are over 500 children in the streets at any given time in Knoxville. The children are not the only ones. Of the over 1100 people counted in the annual point in time homeless count in Knoxville back in February of 2022, there lies another reality…the old are suffering too.
The elderly is part of a growing population in Knoxville called the “new” homeless, those evicted, or unable to find housing in a town growing so fast it is the number nine city in America for people relocating to Knoxville. Rents have tripled, people who have lived for decades in one space now find themselves living in their cars, motels, and when their funds finally run out, in the streets. Mike knows he can’t do anything about their condition long-term – he just tries, with the help of the community – to help them make it one more night.
With the help of community organizations, Wrinkles begins the all day run of picking up items donated by individuals and community groups – taking them to the street. On this day Wrinkles has gotten help from I AM The Voice of the Voiceless. Exchanging wet shoes and flip flops for socks and gently used tennis shoes, passing out dry clothes, sleeping bags and blankets, giving out bags of food and little notes of encouragement from his fellow members at Holy Ghost Church – he is out till way into the early morning hours, seeking who he can serve until his truck is empty, and he goes back home to start all over again the next day.