Panhandling Problem Plagues Chattanooga Streets

Once called “the dirtiest city in America” by Walter Cronkite, Chattanooga earned the nickname “Scenic City” after turnaround projects beginning in the early 2000s. However, many home and business owners feel that Chattanooga is on the downslide due to increased littering, panhandling and homelessness.

A trending conversation from the Brainerd Nextdoor community app summed up many of the area residents concerned. This conversation will be quoted throughout the article.  

Gina from the Camp Jordan area stated, “Our local politicians wouldn’t allow this filth in their neighborhoods and I’m sure the police could suddenly find a way to “do something about it” if panhandlers were in the areas where they live. Politicians no longer work for the people and they don’t even try to hide the fact.” 

Viktoria from Brainerd stated, “Seems like no one thought about where these folks would end up when they were pushed out of ‘up and coming’ Downtown.  My opinion does not solve a problem that is older than me but it feels like no one in power has ever actually attempted to fix the problem.  They are satisfied with pushing it away so it does not affect them directly.”  

When residents feel the quality of life has gone down in an area, it makes them likely to move out of the city and take their spending and/or tax dollars elsewhere. 

Bob from Hilltop stated “Panhandling and trash abounds where there was once an inviting, diverse community.  311 calls fall by the wayside.  We trusted the city, paid taxes and they have failed us. This section of Chattanooga has too many problems…and we pay taxes to keep these things from happening.  We’ve decided to move out of town completely.”  

Homeowners express embarrassment by the unsightliness of littering and fear it brings down home values in certain neighborhoods. 

According to, they are not wrong.  Ninety-three percent of homeowners say a littered neighborhood would decrease their assessment of a home’s value and influence their decision to purchase a property.  Fifty-five percent of realtors think that litter reduces a property value by nine percent. Sixty-six percent of property appraisers would reduce a home’s value if it was a littered area. 

Litter also has an impact on tourism revenues. The tourism industry brings in much more revenue if a city is presented attractively—including having a clean and visually appealing community with clean streets and roads, clean sidewalks and gutters, clean and attractive businesses, and attractive venues.   

According to study conducted by Arizona State University, Panhandling intimidates some people, even causing them to avoid areas where they believe they will be panhandled.  Of those polled, 40 percent expressed concern for their safety around panhandlers.   

Panhandling, especially if it’s aggressive, leads to safety concerns that makes families and individuals uneasy about coming into the city.  Panhandlers often stop traffic, slow traffic or even walk out in front of traffic.  

This negatively effects business and tourism commerce for local businesses. 

Robert from Missionary Ridge stated, “I once asked a panhandler if he would like to have a job with my business.  The panhandler replied, ‘I can make three or four hundred dollars on a good day, this is my job.”  

“If panhandling wasn’t profitable, those who make a living in that manner would move on,” Deb of Chattanooga stated. 

According to Chattanooga Community Kitchen, over 4,000 individuals experience homelessness each year in Chattanooga, with over 1,000 homeless children in public schools.  Each night, an estimated 600-700 individuals sleep outside or in shelters, with nearly 200 of them in families. Chattanooga reflects national trends when it comes to the rise in homelessness among families.  Over the last several years, the number of homeless families has increased nearly 300%. 

April from Belvoir stated, “These people need compassion and help.  But the point is that they are intimidating, trashing and disturbing our neighborhood.  This isn’t a political issue or a moral one.  It’s one that pertains to the safety and wellbeing of all involved. 

Sara from Shawnee Hills stated, “As the police noted, they need a city council ordinance to direct them on enforcement.  That would be the starting point.  As much as people have a compassionate heart in this town, the police as well as organizations that help the homeless say over and over again to please do not give them cash or handouts.  It only enables them to keep doing what they’re doing and they never really get the help they need.  There are over 200 agencies in Chattanooga that can help someone.  Dialing 211 puts people in contact with the agency that can help specific issues.” 

District 4 Councilman Darrin Ledford, stated that he has been vocal about these issues since he has been in office. 

Ledford stated, “In 2017, we passed some aggressive panhandling legislation but the Administration actually has to enforce it.”  

“For downtown Chattanooga, the Business Improvement District has helped a great deal in getting people the help they need, but in other areas, there is an uptick in both homelessness and panhandling,” Ledford said. 

Councilman Ledford stated ” We Need to do better.” 

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