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January 11, 2013

'Finding Bigfoot' crew tries to find elusive downtown panhandlers

After failing to find Bigfoot during a show taping in East Tennessee, the cast of Animal Planet's "Finding Bigfoot" have set their sights on locating downtown panhandlers. According to some, Knoxville's panhandlers are notorious for soliciting money and food from residents and visitors. But despite their fabled omnipresence, many of the city's residents have never spotted one of the mysterious beggars.

The show's cast members normally investigate Bigfoot sightings to determine if they are real, pranks, or a case of mistaken identity. But after talking with Knoxville residents, they say they are prepared to make an exception in this case.

"We've searched everywhere for these aggressive hobos that are scaring away all the tourists with their begging," said "Finding Bigfoot" camera operator Justin Pruden. "But so far we haven't found a single one. Are we looking in the wrong places? I mean, we saw panhandlers holding signs at West Knoxville Interstate exit ramps. But that's kind of a long way from downtown."

Pruden isn't the only skeptic. North Knoxville resident Devin Cole rents an apartment two miles from Market Square. He has never been approached for change or the remaining half of a meatball sub.

"I live near downtown," he said. "I'm down here two or three times a week on average. Supposedly these solicitors are everywhere. I wish I could find one. Am I doing something wrong? Maybe if I wore nicer pants? Man, I hope I find one. I'm not going to be able to finish this chicken sandwich."

Parkridge resident Ian Judd echoed those sentiments.

"Don't get me wrong," Judd said. "I see lots of homeless people. But none of them ask me for money. My feelings are kind of hurt, to be honest with you."

Pruden says he and the "Finding Bigfoot" crew will wrap up shooting on Monday. They aren't optimistic about the hunt.

"I keep hearing how unsafe downtown Knoxville is with all of the panhandlers," said Pruden. "Is it because they're invisible? I could see that being very dangerous. And if it isn't dangerous, it definitely creeps me out a little. People shouldn't be allowed to be invisible."

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