Wheeling issues warning: Homeless camps will be torn out after numerous problems with crime

Ohio County

WHEELING, W. Va. (WTRF) – The City of Wheeling is warning the homeless that they will tear out four camps along Wheeling Creek in the downtown area.

Signs posted in the areas warn that people have until 5:00 p.m. Friday to remove their belongings, or the city will remove them.

Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said these four camps were the site of 15 overdoses (some of them fatal), seven domestic batteries, three large fires, three sexual assaults and one indecent exposure this summer alone.

And he said that’s just the beginning.

We had 118 calls for service in and around those camps. There were several assaults. Six felony fugitives were arrested there. The officers can’t enter those camps without stepping over hypodermic needles.

Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, Wheeling Police Department

The signs urge the homeless individuals to turn to several agencies, including Project HOPE; but Project HOPE, an arm of the Wheeling Ohio County Health Department, involves their health, not their housing.

“We try never to tell people, ‘This is where you need to go,'” said Howard Gamble, Health Department administrator. “We just don’t do that. We just make the recommendation that they do need to move.”

Howard Gamble, Health Administrator, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department

The sign also refers them to the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless.

Any person who wants to go to an emergency shelter can come through the Coalition.

Lisa Badia, Executive Director, Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless

She said they have rapid re-housing, as well as special programs for veterans, AIDS patients and people who are homeless due to circumstances stemming from the COVID crisis.

But, she says they must want the help.

If they really are just into their addiction or if they’re just not willing to alter their behavior, any effort on our end is really not going to be very effective.

Lisa Badia, Executive Director, Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless

She said she knows there is crime and drug use and overdoses at the camps. She also knows there is help available.

I think there’s a whole host of organizations that really want to help these folks in different ways. I think it’s up to that person, though, to say I’m tired of living this way.

Lisa Badia, Executive Director, Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless

We’re here–as well as the Homeless Coalition–to advise them. We can say ‘here are your next steps, if we can help you.’

Howard Gamble, Health Administrator, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department

Tearing out the homeless camps happens periodically, but doesn’t solve the problem.

You know, we tell them ‘You can’t stay here, you’ve got to go somewhere,’ but where is that somewhere?

Rosemary Ketchum, Health and Recreation Committee Chair of Wheeling City Council.

She said they can be referred to agencies, but if they don’t qualify for the help, or if the agency or organization is out of resources, it doesn’t help at all.

Ketchum also said it points out the need to develop a proactive long-term plan.

Or else these issues will begin to define our city and I think that it’s hard to call ourselves The Friendly City if we aren’t willing to act that way.

Rosemary Ketchum, Health and Recreation Committee Chair of Wheeling City Council.

Chief Schwertfeger said it’s not an attack on anyone who is homeless.

“I root for them. I want them to find jobs and get safe housing, but we can’t sit by and allow these conditions to become any more pervasive.

Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, Wheeling Police Department

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