Outrage, shock and a wave of compassion, two incidents in the past two weeks of homeless camps being torn down have sparked emotional reactions in Ohio County.
Advocates for the homeless say both incidents were honest mistakes. In the first, Wheeling Police responded to reports of vandalism, and upon finding a mess, called the operations department in to clean it up. In the second, the Department of Highways was doing its regular clean-up and encountered another camp in disarray, and they also threw everything away, “The problem I think there was some issue with, one of the camps had been recently vandalized and was pretty much destroyed and things looked deplorable. So I think what happened was, when the department people came and they cleaned things up, they looked at this as though, wow, that’s pretty bad and they just took everything, even tents,” said Dr. William Mercer.
Kate Marshall with Youth Service System said, “It can appear sometimes that what they’re seeing is garbage, not knowing that intermixed in that can be very valuable items. We’ve had some extremely important documents, their ID cards, their last family photos, dentures, we had someone who was keeping their mother’s ashes.”
They already had a verbal agreement with the city to take no action against tent camps without consulting Project HOPE. Now they plan to make sure everyone, from the city to the county to the state highway department, is aware of that agreement, and perhaps even put it in writing.
They were able to retrieve some of the bags that were disposed of, and plan to help the owners sift through and save their most important belongings.
They say it has ignited people’s compassion and awareness of the homeless.