By Mike Steely
“We’ve spent years getting this cemetery in shape and now this,” said Ruthie Kuhlman, executive of the Old Gray Cemetery Education, Historic and Memorial Association. She was talking about the increasing litter, vandalism, sex trafficking and drug abuse at the historic Knoxville graveyard.
“My husband and I and our church feed the homeless through KARM. I bake bread for them every other week. I feel for them,” Kuhlman told The Focus.
She said that when the city was considering creating a “Day Park” beneath the Broadway Bridge no one consulted them.
“None of us were asked what we thought,” she said.
“If you can’t deal with a problem you should let it alone,” she said of the city’s actions.
Kuhlman added that the cemetery can always use funding and volunteers, especially to keep it clean. She also said the cemetery board is planning to use some funds they will receive in a will to construct an 8-foot wall all around the cemetery.
“The police have been wonderful,” she said about cooperation in helping get vandals out of the historic landmark.
“It is not a park, it’s a private cemetery,” she said. Kuhlman said visitors are always welcome during the day. She also wants visitors to remember to not deface or attempt to clean a grave stone or monument. She said attempted cleaning can harm the stones.
David Brace, Knoxville’s chief operating officer, said Wednesday that he understands Mrs. Kuhlman’s concerns. He said the Day Park is a “puzzle piece” that fits into an ongoing program to help the homeless. He said the city is planning to add potable water at the Broadway day center.
“It’s too early to judge the success. Homelessness is not solved but is an ongoing effort,” he said.
Brace said the city has lots of partners in the effort including nightly housing at KARM and other places. He added that Volunteer Ministry Center has a concept about additional nightly housing that the city wants to learn more about.
“All the puzzle pieces will fit into the big picture,” Brace said.