I want to believe him. I want to believe my $5 will go toward food and water and better clothing.

I don’t want to think it was used to buy heroin for him to shoot under a bridge. I don’t want to believe it will go for a can of spray paint, or a six pack, or a bottle of booze instead of something of sustenance that will allow him to survive another day.

But I just don’t know what to believe, not about his reasons for holding a sign that reads, “Homeless and hungry … Anything’s a blessing. TY :),” or about his limp. I’ve had to limp before, for broken, sprained, and twisted and tweaked reasons, but I’ve never limped like that.

I’m talking about one of the two men I met Tuesday afternoon along the lanes of Interstate 70 Exit Ramp 2A between Woodsdale and Fulton. I spoke with W.Va. Del. Shawn Fluharty (D-3rd) about the complaints I’ve heard centered on the presence of panhandling at the Oglebay, Washington Avenue, and Elm Grove exits, and he told me he also had been asked by many Third House District constituents about what state laws were in place that could suppress the activity.

Del. Fluharty jokingly suggested I film a documentary, but I recommended we visit with those we could find. That’s exactly what we did Tuesday afternoon.

“The presence of panhandlers has increased recently, and I have heard concerns by constituents. How our society treats the less fortunate says a lot about who we are and the type of society was want to live in,” the lawmaker said. “Everyone sees them, and a lot of people have opinions on this issue. I think it is important for me, as a public servant, to gather the facts so that I can make an informed decision as to whether or not anything needs done.”

Gathering facts is what we think we did.

The 37-year-old, limping man introduced himself as “Bill.”

Bill told us he was from Martins Ferry, and he told us he graduated from high school. Others have offered many other bits of information, much of which I’ve proven untrue. It is true, however, that William Bender, or “Bill,” was tried and exonerated of charges last year involving the alleged recruitment of a minor on Facebook and that his online footprint indicates a few other arrests involving domestic-related incidents. Nothing, though, exists concerning drug possession, trafficking, or abuse, and he professes to be clean of all illegal substances.

W.Va. Del. Shawn Fluharty speaks with Sonny about his inability to acquire government-issued identification while Bill displays his sign to passing motorists.

W.Va. Del. Shawn Fluharty speaks with Sonny about his inability to acquire government-issued identification while Bill displays his sign to passing motorists.

The limp, he insisted, is real and is the result of an injury he suffered when he was employed by a local trucking company.

“My leg really hurts, and it doesn’t help that I am out here all day walking on it,” he said. “I’m not one to take medications. You see a lot of people getting addicted to drugs that way, and that’s something I choose not to do.

“When I did have my driver’s license, I was driving a semi a couple years back, and I hurt my leg when a steel coil that we were loading rolled back on it,” Bill said. “It hit me, and that was that. I haven’t been the same since. I don’t know what’s really wrong with it because I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor then, and I still can’t afford it now.”

Bill admitted, though, that he’s lost himself, and that he’s not quite sure how that happened.

“It’s day to day with me, really,” Bill said. “I met Sonny about two years ago, and I don’t know what I do without him. I stay anyplace where I can lay my head down, pretty much. A couple of nights I have gone with Sonny, and he showed me a spot underneath a bridge where I could sleep.

“People usually give me between $40-$50 each day, and I use that to get something to eat, and if it’s raining I may try to find a cheap motel room, but that’s getting harder and harder because the prices always go up because of all of those oil and gas guys who come into the Valley.”

This past Monday afternoon I saw Bill at this intersection shoeless, but later in the day a women offered a new pair of shoes. He was wearing them on Tuesday when we visited.

“Most of the people are very nice. Not all, but most,” he said. “It’s the people in the Valley, and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I think it’s because they know that what has happened to me could happen to them some day. It happens to a lot of people.”

Sonny says he was born in Texas, but was real happy when he was in Louisiana. He told me he arrived to this area because of a girlfriend, but then the girlfriend kicked him out following an argument. That left him stuck here, he insisted. So, Sonny admitted, he’s walked up and down this rocky, muddy stretch of public land in order to survive for the past six years.

Sonny is a well-liked resident of local homeless shelters and has been a consistent overnighter at Youth Services System’s Winter Freeze Shelter in East Wheeling. He claimed he didn’t remember his age, and it would be difficult for me to guess it because of the reasons why Sonny’s appearance is so damn haggard. His beard and mustache are unmanaged, he’s missing some teeth, and he speaks wisely when talking about life in general, and I get the impression that it’s his scars that mean the most.

“I’ve got congestive heart failure and emphysema, so I’ve been working with some people to try to get disability,” Sonny said. “I’ve been out here for six years, and I was one of the first people to stay at the Winter Freeze Shelter at YSS.

“But why am I out here? Because I had to do what I had to do, and I collect about $20 or $30 during the day. And it ain’t true. I don’t use that money to drink or to do drugs. There are some who do that, but not me. I’m just being honest.”

But, the impression I developed during my brief time with Sonny is that he seems to be a sucker, of sorts, because of the females who are usually present on the same corner while he’s pacing and panhandling. He insists he’s helping them because they need it, but I’ve seen them sit there with cell phones and sodas and chips and bling on every finger of both hands.

Unfortunately, when they saw me approach, one of them told me to stay on the side on which I was standing. They weren’t going to talk to me, she shouted, and she also told me that I should just leave.

I tend to believe Sonny more than I do Bill, but I know why, too. Sonny has no roots here, really, and he’s managed to stay out of jail. That means there are few stories to tell about him, but that’s not the case with Bill. Bill is local. People have known him for years, and they haven’t been afraid to share their opinions on social media networks.

Even family members have shared true nuggets of Bill’s past because of the erroneous information that has been shared about him since he initially took to the streets to ask for help. They admit he gets into trouble often, but not for any involvement with drugs. Bill has been homeless, but they say that changes depending on whether he’s staying with a parent. His legal troubles have centered on domestic situations, and those incidents have led to the separation between him and his children. His childhood was a rough one in Martins Ferry, they say, as his parents didn’t have much, and a history of mental illness exists.

One family member described him as a nomad.

Bill was seen shoeless Monday afternoon at the same intersection near Perkins Restaurant.

Bill was seen shoeless Monday afternoon at the same intersection near Perkins Restaurant.

Law, Opinion, and Complaints

It is not a new activity, and governments reacted long ago.

The city of Wheeling has this ordinance currently on the books under Article 509 – Disorderly Conduct and Peace Disturbance. As indicated, it was approved and implemented in 1961:

509.07  BEGGING .

No person within the City for personal benefit shall beg alms or solicit charity of any other person on public streets of the City or in any building where public or private business is conducted. (1961 Code Sec. 535.02)

The state of West Virginia has addressed a small portion of this issue within the state code:

  • 61-8-25. Requiring children to beg, sing or play musical instruments in streets; penalty.

Any person, having the care, custody, or control, lawful or unlawful, of any minor child under the age of eighteen years, who shall use such minor, or apprentice, give away, let out, hire or otherwise dispose of, such minor child to any person, for the purposes of singing, playing on musical instruments, begging, or for any mendicant business whatsoever in the streets, roads, or other highways of this state, and any person who shall take, receive, hire, employ, use or have in custody, any minor for the vocation, occupation, calling, service or purpose of singing, playing upon musical instruments, or begging upon the streets, roads or other highways of this state, or for any mendicant business whatever, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than five nor more than one hundred dollars.

Panhandling, begging — the law refers to soliciting and taking money from the public with both terms, but municipal and state laws were erased earlier this year when the Supreme Court of the United States declined to review a Massachusetts-based case in January. Lower-level federal courts struck down the ban implemented in Worcester, stating that it was an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.

But there’s still a catch when it comes to those along the intersections and roadways in Wheeling and throughout the Upper Ohio Valley, said Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger. While their presence is as permissible as their pacing up and down the roadways, we must offer the cash, and they must not impede traffic in any way.

“Basically, the Supreme Court has said that it is illegal for a municipality to ban panhandlers,” explained Schwertfeger. “So thank you Supreme Court of the United States.

“If they obstruct traffic then it’s a different story, but I am not going to dedicate the resources so one of our officers can sit there and wait to see one of them going out in a roadway and holding up traffic. I’m not going to do that because we have several other things to keep our eyes on that’s far more important,” he said. “I get a ton of complaints about them, but every time I have to explain that the federal government has put the handcuffs on us on this one. Our hands are bound.”

Sonny says he helps these women because they claim to need it.

Sonny says he helps these women because they claim to need it.

But that does not mean, Schwertfeger insisted, that law enforcement will cease in searching for ways to curtail the activity when possible.

“Because of the non-action taken by Supreme Court, we have started looking at different options and angles that we can enforce when it comes to the panhandling activity we see so much of in Wheeling right now,” Schwertfeger said. “I can tell you that I have gone out and spoken with these people myself, and what I can tell you is that most of them are homeless, and they have their issues and their reasons.

“Now there are others that I still question as far as the reasons they are out there, and that’s not fair to people who are actually in need because no one knows who is genuine and who isn’t,” the chief continued. “What the public should understand is that if they experience something they don’t think is right, they should call us and tell us about it. That’s how we know something isn’t right.”

Del. Fluharty and I were discussing this issue, and we agreed on a number of things, including the fact that most people jump to conclusions based on a person’s appearance instead of factual information, and that every single person possesses his or her very own story.

“I was not raised to be judgmental of others, and I think it’s important for the government not to be in the judgment business,” Fluharty said. “Everyone has a story; that’s what my father always reminded me growing up, so I’m not going to pass judgment on anyone. My goal is to try to get a true understanding of what is going on.

“However, some of the social media posts raise valid concerns; when people choose to give money, they do not know exactly how it will be used,” he continued. “Ultimately, that is up to individual choice as to whether they want to give or not. They are here because of the generosity of the community. The homeless come here because they know they will be provided with food and shelter.

“I know that many people are not happy with the increase in panhandling, but a free society is not always a neat and orderly society,” Fluharty continued. “We are blessed to live in this community, and many in this community were raised to give to those who ask of us. Now, whether you want to give directly or through one of the many local charities is the choice of the individual. However, it is not a government solution.”

That is why the delegate does not plan to propose any new legislation intended to challenge the federal opinion.

“We live in a free country. The government is not there to interfere with individual liberties. Look, our state has massive problems. The abundance of panhandlers is a byproduct of the economic depression many in our state face today,” Fluharty said. “We should be spending time focusing on these bigger issues and not using the topic of panhandlers as a political tool.

“Americans have a fundamental right to be left alone by the government. Unless they are committing a crime, they should not be bothered,” he insisted. “If they are committing a crime, then they should be prosecuted. If the public safety is at risk along the roadways, then that’s an issue for law enforcement to address, and those laws are already on the books.”

Sonny is a common sight along the Interstate 70 2A exit ramp.

Sonny is a common sight along the Interstate 70 2A exit ramp.

You and I

A few motorists offered Bill and Sonny advice during our Tuesday visit. I heard one man suggested to Bill that he “get a job,” and another man told Sonny to “get off (his) roadway.”

We also have been offered “Tickets to Heaven” by a one-legged man in exchange for our hard-earned money; mothers have strolled along the exit ramps looking for cash for their sick kids; and there are the little old men like Sonny and the hurting men with limps like Bill’s. Wheeling, the Friendly City, is the gathering place for the region’s homeless because of the services rendered within the city and the lack of services offered anywhere else. While there are Salvation Army locations in Marshall and Belmont counties, there are no homeless shelters, soup kitchens, or Catholic Charities Neighborhood centers of homeless coalition offices.

Those are in Wheeling — East Wheeling, in fact.

“People have options when it comes to helping the homeless that are in Wheeling,” said Mayor Andy McKenzie. “They can choose to give the person along the exit ramps the money they want to give them, or they can contribute to the many organizations that we have so they can be sure that those dollars will, for sure, go toward helping the people who need it.

“While I am sure most of the people who are at those locations asking for help are really in need of help, I don’t know which ones those are nor does anyone else,” he continued. “What I do know for sure is that organizations like the Greater Wheeling Soup Kitchen, the YSS Winter Freeze Shelter, the Wheeling Homeless Coalition, the Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities do a lot of great work and that they take care of people who need the help.”

John Moses is the executive director of YSS, and it was he who opened the Winter Freeze Shelter for the first time six years ago. The refuge, in fact, opened one month early in November because of the frigid temperatures in an effort to fill the need that often surpasses demand at the Salvation Army shelter one street away.

And Moses is always quick to point out that mental illness, the local and national economies, and “bad luck” are the most popular reasons why men, women, and sometimes even children find themselves without shelter at any given time.

“It is true that most of us are only a few missed paychecks away from having to do the very same thing,” Moses said in March. “We have met many people over the past six years of the Winter Freeze Shelter, and it has taught us all a lot of things we didn’t know about homelessness in this valley.

“And it is true – everyone has their own story,” he said. “And I can tell you that the people in this area do care about the homeless because when we decided to open the shelter a month early many, many people started showing up at our doorstep to donate to the shelter.”

Both Sonny and Bill explained to Fluharty that they do not possess government-issued identification, and Sonny said he also does not have a birth certificate or a Social Security card. Because of the requirements stipulated by the federal “Real I.D. Law,” he needs both documents plus two bills to confirm his address in order to be issue identification by the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles.

Sonny doesn’t have an address either.

Bill, a native of Martins Ferry, explains why he limps when he walks.

Bill, a native of Martins Ferry, explains why he limps when he walks.

“The poor are among us. It’s a reality,” said Fluharty. “Panhandling is nothing new, and an increase only shows that more people are facing hard times. Focusing on keeping them out of sight does not eliminate the problem; it only attempts to cover the scars that face our state. We have numerous charities and civic organizations that already do a phenomenal job at providing direct relief. It has been efficient and does not burden taxpayers.

“As far as the mentally ill, the state already has procedures in place, and there is an efficient legal process to have the mentally ill evaluated and taken off the streets. The problem is those that could possibly be mentally ill do not know of these services or are not around others enough to receive the proper help.

“We will only see an increase in the number of mentally ill not receiving proper treatment if our state’s philosophy continues to be one that cuts funding to these critical services,” the lawmaker added. “It is my hope that the lawmakers in the state will start taking care of the people in West Virginia instead of following an agenda that originated outside of our state.”



37 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    I have seen several times. bill getting out of an SUV (Ohio plates) that drops him off at that ramp early in the mornings.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    While I am not commenting for all within this article, I know very well each and every one of these folks.

    Please allow me to say that looks and impressions can be very deceiving (I would swear on a bible or at least “provide” one for someone to). At least one of the females spends more time at the hair salon and tanning booth than I do at work on a weekly basis.

    I would agree this article is we’ll written for the time spent with these folks, but others well immersed within this culture would provide a different picture if allowed.

    Reply
  3. Alex Coogan

    “Basically, the Supreme Court has said that it is illegal for a municipality to ban panhandlers,” explained Schwertfeger. “So thank you Supreme Court of the United States.”

    Did he just say “screw the 1st amendment these guys make me mad and I wanna arrest them” ..

    Reply
  4. Shaun Hale

    This article was pointed out to me by a very close friend. As I sit and ponder the article, my opinion changes. First, I have recently become unemployed and I have two daughters. Would I do this to make certain of their survival? YES!

    That being said, I can also see the point of view of others. I see the point of view from the aspect of the law, as I once worked for them and I can tell you that in most cases of the homeless people that come in, they are generally to the point that theft of property seems their only option.

    To the few who think that it is as easy as that to walk into a “free” clinic — let me tell you, it is not. First, most people who have mental issues do not realize it. While it is possible for those of us who consider ourselves sane to ask “Why don’t they see it?”, consider that they also see themselves as sane in some cases. For example, I had a sister who was very intelligent and also very educated. She was a top ranked nurse for a major Dialysis center in New York. She also quickly became an alcoholic. Within a few years, she had no license, no home, and no income. I spent many hours speaking with her and trying to convince her that she was heading down the wrong path. Ten years after she moved to New York, I buried her. She died from hepatic failure due to alcoholism. She was constantly in and out of clinics and programs. Sometimes the medicines on which these people are placed are simply too hard to handle. Sometimes the medicine is worse than the illness, or at least so it would seem. The point of this paragraph is that generally mentally ill people are not “fixed”, but rather given the option of long term medication. This becomes a very hard path as they must make the many appointments and they must maintain a therapeutic level of medication. Another problem with most of the medication for the more severe patients is that when it finally kicks in and they start feeling normal, then their energy is sapped, so they relapse.

    Another point of view is that of Obama-Care and the diminishing “free” clinics as “everyone” should be able to have insurance now. It is the case however that if you do not have an I.D. then it is impossible to get this insurance. Add to that the fact that there are many illiterate people in the world and you just add to the common conundrum of “how do I fill this out?”.

    So is there a fix for this problem? Not that I see, at least in the near future. When I was working and I had money, I would gladly give food to the people who said they were hungry. If the sign said need work, I would find something that I needed help with and I would hire the person to work with me for the day. I once had a person to fuss at me for not just giving the people money, but I can tell you that I have also been thanked by those same people for treating them as human and giving them an opportunity.

    Ultimately, it boils down to what kind of person you are. Do you help your fellow man / woman or do you say “Get a job”. By the way, I totally agree with the person who said that once they give it is no longer their concern. Whatever is given is now the property of the individual it was given to.

    Also, I wish to add that government cannot fix this problem. Part of the problem, in my opinion, is government. A lot of good jobs are sent overseas. We have a good workforce and we should be using it. We should not be allowing other countries, especially those with questionable motives, pedal their wares here. We have become the ultimate consumers and lost the ability to be producers.

    jsh

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Most of these panhandle are addicts. I have friends that work with them in various institutions. They come to Wheeling not for our generosity, but because it is well known across the country that WV is super easy to check into a mental health facility and get drugs prescribed to you. I for one believe that out of all the sob stories you hear these individuals tell, maybe one may be true. They do’t want identification, or jobs, or food. They only want money. I used to offer them lunch, or give them the coupon sheets that you get from fast food places to help them get lunch cheap. I have always been met with hostility and belive rant comments. Anything helps huh? I used to feel sympathy for these people, now I just want to see them gone. They know if their story’s were true that there is places to go to get help. They just want to bulk you out of your money because they are just too lazy to help themselves.

    Reply
  6. Aubria Hager

    I have volunteered at the YSS Winter Freeze Shelter, the Soup Kitchen, and the Homeless Coalition and I see a lot of overlap by the patrons in these establishments. This is because there are so many wonderful available resources in Wheeling, as the article states. A lot of judgement is made about these people without knowing anything about them. Everyone has a story different from each other (how, when, and why) they became down on their luck. We as a community need to stop grouping all of “them” together and realize everyone is an individual. Once you sit down and talk about life and general, you may be surprised how much insight you may gain from a short conversation. It’s not any of our jobs to judge anyone else. My dad always told me “you never know when you’re entertaining an angel”; that is why I give with no questions asked when I have the resources. We have to remember just because one person you see used the money to buy something “you” deemed “unnecessary”, doesn’t mean all are doing the same thing. There are plenty of genuine people with good intentions on these streets. Please remember that before being so quick to judge another!

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    There’s too many holes in their stories here. If Bill’s injury claim is true, yes he would have received/qualified for Workman’s Comp for his injuries. Furthermore, he can receive free medical care through Wheeling Health Right, ESPECIALLY since he’s homeless and has no income. He would know this if he’s been to the Soup Kitchen, the Salvation Army, or any multiple charity group in the area. They would have sent him there if his injury was legit OR not. Even though sometimes their waiting list is long, it’s better than not having it at all when he’s claiming he can’t get his leg looked at. And he can’t claim he was never told about it. WHR has been servicing both WV AND in Martins Ferry, Ohio (where he claims he’s from) for over TWO DECADES.

    And the women? The one with the cell phone? The picture says it all. And in the other picture… the other woman is smoking. They can afford a cell phone and cigarettes, but have to panhandle for money, or need “help”?

    The other witness accounts in the comments section are quite disturbing as well. I tend to believe them more than this article because it’s not like this group is going to tell the truth about having access to a car, etc to someone interviewing them. They’re naturally going to give a sob story in hopes to get more pity.

    As for what I’ve seen myself? There’s another one I pass about everyday in town, yet he’s also smoking while holding up his sign. Really? You got money for smokes but not for food?

    I truly wish I could find empathy toward this group, but with ALL the organizations we have here, all I’m reading are excuses. Also, you do NOT NEED 2 forms of residency to obtain a state ID. They accept a letter from the homeless shelter validating their homeless status and that the person stays at the shelter. It states so on the DMV website. DHHR can direct someone as to how to obtain their birth certificate, or help in obtaining it from another state if said person does not have the financial means to do so. Same with the SS office when it comes to obtaining the proper requirements. There ARE stipulations for the homeless to better help them obtain proof of identity compared to what all we have to provide.

    Also, being that they are supposedly homeless, they are also eligible for SNAPS/food stamps even WITHOUT a state ID…. http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/snapfood-stamps/homeless-persons-rights-under-the-snapsnapfood-stamp-program/
    They’re actually eligible for more than those with little or no income become they have no residency. It may not be much, but it’s something to where they could put more of their collection money towards getting their feet on the ground.

    I’m not saying these people are “complete” liars, but there’s so much that is not adding up here. So to Steve and Sean, I would ask that you go these men once more and provide them with the additional information (since they seem to lack knowledge of it) and see where they take it, and possibly do a follow up story. I’m all for helping those down on their luck in life, but only if they are putting in some sort of effort for themselves as well. The services are there. Educate them, don’t enable if we seriously mean to do good for our fellow man.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      As a family member of Bill, his limp is fake. When he was with family in spring of 2014, he walked just fine. He does have issues and his family doesn’t trust him from past experiences. He has always chooses to have a wayward lifestyle. He did not have such a rough lifestyle as he claims. He was raised by his grandmother, father and step mom. There are two roads to take as an adult. Grow and overcome the adversities of life one had growing up or let it define you as a victim and be a user. If you research his family past. You will see which roads were taken.

      Reply
  8. Karen Merritt

    Good article and I applaud you for going out to actually talk to them.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    Personally, I only give food to panhandlers, and it’s usually dog food if they have a dog.
    I’ve learned in my line of work that if a person is hungry in Wheeling, they can eat. If they need treated for mental illness, it is available. If they want to overcome their addiction, there is help.
    West Virginia is truly friendly towards people in these circumstances, especially in Wheeling. There are the Soup Kitchen and Catholic Charities for meals. There are several food pantries available. The housing market is tough, but the waiting list for Wheeling Housing Authority moves quickly and they have several high rise buildings to fill.
    The resources are here, I assure you. John Moses is one hell of a man. I’ve met him and sat down to talk with him a couple times. He’s a genuinely caring man and the freeze shelter was desperately needed. The article did not mention that there are 3 shelters running year round, with the freeze shelter making #4 in the winter.
    By the way, I know for a fact that one panhandler is saving to buy a Playstation. That’s why I don’t give cash to them. Again, anything they need is available for them; they just have to put forth the effort to go get it.

    Reply
  10. john

    I live not far from where they stand and panhandle. Everyday I drive past and usually have something left in my lunchbox whether its a lunch cake or a sandwich whatever Is there I gave to them. One day the other guy not mentioned here but (found out later is with them) took the food I handed him and said “great more f#ckin food!” I just looked at him and drove off. I sat at home thinking about these guys and decided to investigate them. About an hour later a car pulls in behind Perkins 3 guys get out and sonny bill that ignorant guy and 2 woman got into the car and they drove off. I followed them to rock point road down by the creek where a truck was waiting and some exchange was made and the truck drove off. I waited about 10min and saw them walk down to the creek where they had syringes and what looked like a crack pipe. These people are a joke they go to paper boxes put 50cents in and take every newspaper out to resell for their habits. They are scammers

    Reply
  11. jason

    If they are collecting 50 a day, that is 350 a week. That is more then some of the people giving them money make. They should be paying taxes on that money. Maybe that is how to get rid of them

    Reply
  12. Lance Eror

    Sean and I went to WVU together. WOW. Look at him now. This is crazy.

    Can’t believe your in politics now. Mam, we are getting old.

    Go Mountaineers. Stay slippy my friend.

    Lance

    Reply
  13. Michael Iafrate

    This is a troubling article for a variety of reasons.

    I appreciate wanting to let people who are in desperate situations tell their own stories. And it’s good to have gotten the perspective of people like John Moses who have worked with the homeless for years. But this doesn’t quite get it, in my opinion, because it is framed, from the start, by a position of suspicion. As an “investigative” piece, it it feels exploitative rather than sensitive, invasive and demeaning more than compassionate. And I fear that continually framing this issue, and these human beings, through the lens of suspicion rather than through their humanity, we aren’t going to be able to have the right conversations about homelessness in Wheeling, but rather will only feed the right-wing hatred of the poor which is so strong in this city.

    The “Yay Wheeling” movement should do better than this, and should take an active, compassionate role on this issue, not be “neutral” or encourage suspicion of people in this community. If Wheeling is “the place to be,” we can’t tack on, even silently or passively, “unless you are poor, because you make ‘our’ town look bad.”

    I’m happy to know that our chief of police is in favor of the criminalization of homelessness, so kudos to Weelunk for passing along that disturbing info. It’s good to know which side he’s on and to know that he totally sucks. But again, it is troubling that his viewpoint was framed as a valid one in this article.

    Weelunk has the potential to be a truly community driven, grassroots, positive, independent local news site. Sometimes they succeed. Not here. They should cover issues like this, but should do so in a way that consciously contributes to social justice in this city, not in a way that scrutinizes the poor and puts their lives under a microscope to satisfy people’s journalistic curiosities. Let’s see a retraction, an apology, and a rewrite?

    Reply
    • Matt Welsch

      I believe this article began in a way to establish rapport with the reader and address many of the average fellow’s concerns when it comes to dealing with homeless people. I found it neither exploitative nor invasive, rather inquisitive and concerned.
      That homelessness and panhandling are not on the easiest terms with the law is not new. What we can applaud is all the work our community, including the author of this piece, Mayor, and Police Chief, do to help the homeless. This is not always the case.
      Dealing with societal ills will always be difficult, and never will everyone agree, however, I believe beginning the conversation is an instrumental step, and this piece certainly does that.

      Reply
  14. Mary Ellen Cassidy

    Thank you Steve for this important and insightful article.

    Also, thank you Shawn Fluharty. The fact that you got out there to try to research the problem first hand, and your resulting comments gives me hope for political leaders, particularly your advice – “We should be spending time focusing on these bigger issues and not using the topic of panhandlers as a political tool.

    It seems we are often willing to discuss and implement programs focused on the consequences of systemic problems, but unwilling to tackle the larger and tougher policies that cause them.

    Wheeling should be very proud of the diverse social services we have in place, some of which are mentioned in this article. While we support these efforts, those of us blessed with the time and resources need to honor those programs by going a step further to discover solutions that address the core causes.

    This story reminds me of the parable about the waterfall – Many good people were frantically trying to save people who have fallen down a high waterfall, many of them drowning. As the people along the shore are working tirelessly to rescue as many as possible, someone on the shore looks up and sees a seemingly never-ending stream of people falling down the waterfall and starts to climb to the top. One of other rescuers hollers, “Where are you going? ” The man replied, “Someone has to go upstream.”

    .

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  15. Bob

    I want to pose this question to you, why is it the same “Group” day in and day out? Ever been over to the island? Same group, the guy that is missing a leg? You know he had a car? And a wheelchair? Do you also know he goes and picks up the other ones? Sorry i see nothing but a group of scammers who are working as a group to take money. If you are homeless, how can you afford to have a inspection sticker on your car and current tags also? The man with the car has to pay taxes, has to have gas, and has to pass a inspection on this car, how?

    Take a deeper look at the group and you will see that they are working as a team. Heck I just drive by and notice these things on a day by day basis.

    And also since they are not getting as much as they used to, they are now going into business and asking for money. Is this right?

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  16. Michelle Romanek

    I see this as a “me” problem. It doesn’t matter what that person will do with what I offer. Their choices are their choices- food, housing, clothing, alcohol, drugs, movie tickets, doesn’t matter. What matters is that I see someone asking for help and I respond with compassion and love. That’s it. The question is not “is that person a fraud?” The question is, “am I willing to help out a fellow human?” Once I hand over $, it becomes the property of that person, to use as they see fit. Love isn’t conditional.

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  17. Anonymous

    If Bill was injured will “working” for a trucking company and a coil rolled off the truck and struck his leg wouldn’t this be a worker compensation case and he could received medical and financial compensation for the injuries?
    As for Sonny I would hope that one of the charities would provide him with a ticket back south to family or friends.

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  18. Roy Edge

    Great article and was very glad to see Del. Fluharty there. After reading your article, at least for me, there were just way to many “excuses.” If he was injured on the job then he should be collecting Worker’s Comp. As for medical care, why isn’t he going through Wheeling Health Right or some other organization? It just seemed that every question that was asked of him, there was what really sounded like and excuse. There are tons of services available in this area to help those less fortunate. I still there will be an automobile accident because someone stops and other don’t see it and end up someone getting injured.

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  19. Elizabeth

    I appreciate each of you taking the time to address the issue and shed light on some of these individual’s needs. I believe everyone needs to understand not all of the homeless are there because of drugs or alcohol. The hardest part for me is seeing them–which I believe makes many of us feel several different emotions that we prefer not to feel. The need for them is real no matter how uncomfortable it makes me or others. The choice is ultimately ours-to give or not to give. When or if you do give from the heart and without judgement God will take care of the rest.

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  20. Anonymous

    Being away from the Ohio Valley for nearly six years, I can personally say, I have seen my share of homeless men and women. Living in a different state for five and a half of those nearly six years I would see close to 10 maybe more a day if my family was to go somewhere. When I first moved there back in 2010 there was a place that had tent after tent after tent lined up along the creek and roadway. It was the first time I was seeing homelessness to this degree and was appalled to see it. Well I moved back home for a year while my husband was deployed. When I moved back to where I was living in 2011 those tents were taken down. Nothing left but empty space and to be completely honest it broke my heart not knowing what had happened to those men, women, and who know maybe children. Later on, months later, I had found out that they were forced to leave where they thought was their home and move somewhere else all because the city didn’t like them staying where they were because the people passing by on the highway could see their make shift homes and felt it was an eyesore for people driving by.

    The Ohio Valley isn’t the only place where this is happening. Yes there are shelters and places for these people to go and everything like that. I know people say they personally know this “Bill” guy and that he is using and taking advantage of good hearted people by asking for money for a “drug” problem. Well my concern with that is if you know him and say you know his bad habits then maybe you should actually do something. How about for one talking to him. Telling him you remember going to school with him and you would like to know his story and would like to help him. You NEVER know the TRUE story unless you ASK them yourself. There is probably, actually there is, more to this guy then you know.

    These people need more help than anyone right now. We, you and I, could lose everything we have today, tomorrow, or the next day. Where would that leave us. On the streets right beside the one everyone called a fake. Asking the ones who have been there longer to help us anyway they can. The best place to lay out heads down at night, the best place to get any and all kind of money someone could offer. My advice here is maybe instead of pointing out the bad things on social media and anywhere else look for the good in people. The prices in the valley and going up and up because of all the work and workers there right now. Maybe instead of rolling down your window to hand out a five dollar bill, roll down your window and tell them to meet you at a fast food place at whatever time you have free, maybe even give them a ride, and buy them a meal so you know where your money is going to if you are that worried about it. Maybe even go to a motel and buy a room for someone for the night. Somewhere they can sleep and shower.

    Instead of being so judgmental over homeless people get out and help them. Who know maybe one day you will be homeless too!

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  21. Kate Marshall

    Thank you for this excellent article! I so appreciate and admire Del. Shawn Fluharty well thought comments! Each person does have a story and learning how to listen is a key element in working towards real solutions. Be it a story of “bad luck” that lead to financial hardship or an addiction that speaks of a mental health issues, we still are speaking into, acting into a “human’s story” not just a label of “homeless”. WOW! What an amazing statement by Shawn!-“The poor are among us. It’s a reality,” said Fluharty. “Panhandling is nothing new, and an increase only shows that more people are facing hard times. Focusing on keeping them out of sight does not eliminate the problem; it only attempts to cover the scars that face our state. We have numerous charities and civic organizations that already do a phenomenal job at providing direct relief. It has been efficient and does not burden taxpayers”
    It takes folks with this mind set, that I think will be the forerunners in helping folks, from getting id’s to other conversations of creative thoughts on how to find real long term solutions! Thank you again for this article! -Kate Marshall

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  22. Anonymous

    I swear I have seen Sonny at the Northwood housing building on 29th street.

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  23. Teresa

    Thank you for caring enough to actually approach these people and to talk to them. I, myself, am known to give a dollar or two when and if I can. My reasoning is this: You don’t know if they’re telling the truth or not. I do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. On my side of the situation, I give from the heart. I don’t care if they are telling the truth or not. That is between them and God. I will be shown favor and if they are being dishonest they will not be. Karma. It’s all about karma.

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    • Anonymous

      “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40

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    • Anonymous

      I can not believe this article, this Bill character, was walking juts fine when I saw him and another gentleman come walking ol out from the woods. And what about the fact the dude stands there to get money ‘eat’, I sat at the red light on Monday and watched him open a salad of some sorts, open his plastic silverware and throw the trash on the ground. So sounds like hes got it down pat to tell ppl what they want to hear!!! I am absolutely disgusted by this! !!!!!

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      • Anonymous

        Did you ever think maybe someone bought home that food? If you are so disgusted by this article them go out and do something about homelessness yourself. Who knows one day you might be asking these people to help you fine a decent place to sleep at night.

      • Anonymous

        Apparently he did use the money to eat if he had a salad! Please go live on the street for a week, or experience mental illness and tell me you wouldn’t resort to whatever you had to do to survive. People like you are ehsts driving our country downhill

      • Pamela

        agree. instead of doling out cash, tell them nicely about the local resources. as for Sonny, I’m not 100% positive but I have heard that Northwood will buy a one-way ticket to wherever they are going whether it be with family, friends or whoever. I agree that these folks deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. but hive these people a hand up not a hand out.

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