Wheeling Mayor: ‘We Can All Do a Better Job’ Battling Homelessness

Photo by Casey Junkins Robert Staymate displays a sign to passersby along National Road in the Woodsdale area of Wheeling on Tuesday. He said he would rather ask people for money than become homeless in the city.

WHEELING — Robert Staymate said he would rather sit in his wheelchair and ask people for money to keep a roof over his head than end up being homeless — particularly in Wheeling, where officials have ransacked two homeless encampments in recent weeks.

“I don’t want to be out here, but I can’t work because of what happened to my leg,” Staymate, 50, said Tuesday while sitting in his wheelchair near National Road in Woodsdale. “I’m just trying to get what I can so I don’t end up homeless.”

According to Wheeling Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday, who also serves on the board of the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless, Staymate’s situation is all too common in the Upper Ohio Valley. She said many people who become homeless have jobs but do not make enough money to keep up with escalating housing costs.

“So many people are going paycheck to paycheck and are barely getting by at that,” Scatterday said. “When something goes wrong, they may end up without permanent shelter.”

During Tuesday’s Wheeling City Council meeting, Scatterday and other members discussed the recent instances in which two homeless encampments — one along Wheeling Creek near Tunnel Green and one under the Market Street Bridge between downtown and Center Wheeling — were removed. Wheeling employees removed the campsite at Tunnel Green, while officials with the West Virginia Department of Transportation acknowledged their activities led to the removal of the camp beneath the bridge.

“Both incidents are unfortunate,” Mayor Glenn Elliott said. “I think we can all do a better job. We have to better educate some.”

City Manager Robert Herron acknowledged Tuesday there is a new tent along Wheeling Creek at Tunnel Green. He said the encampment’s removal last month took place after vandalism occurred in the area.

“A police officer checked on it. The tents were ruined,” Herron said. “Operations then cleaned it up.”

The second removal took place last week under the bridge that carries Market Street between downtown and Center Wheeling. West Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman Brent Walker said officials had to remove tarps from the underside of the bridge for safety reasons.

“My plea would be for some compassion. We need a long-term solution to this complex problem,” Scatterday said. “People don’t become homeless overnight.”

Last year, a combination of housing and utility costs, low-wage jobs, drug addiction and other problems left more than 100 people in Ohio County homeless, according to the homeless coalition.

Via a social media post, Scatterday expressed her effort and desire to deal with the problem of homelessness in the Friendly City.

“No one on council will be satisfied until the internal and external policies are clarified and implemented in a sustainable way regarding campsites. This will take a little bit of time, but is already in progress,” she stated. “We as a community, as a country, have not properly resourced the organizations committed to ending homelessness in Wheeling and across the U.S., who provide housing and case management services.”

Elliott, who has said he looks forward to working with groups such as Project HOPE, the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless and Youth Services System to address the matter, echoed these sentiments Tuesday.

“We hope to turn something that was unfortunate into something that can help us find a true solution,” he said.

As for Staymate, he said he sustained the leg injury last year following a vehicle accident. Though he has been allowed to stay in his friend’s garage in Elm Grove, he said not being able to work puts him on the fringe of homelessness because he has to keep up with bills.

“People look at me and laugh or swear at me,” he said. “I wish I didn’t have to be out here.”