Treat the Homeless With Compassion

What happened last week in Wheeling was wrong. People who need help were hurt terribly.

Helping the homeless is a controversial matter. Some are drug addicts. Some squander money given to them for food on gambling. Some are homeless by choice.

But many have no place other than Mother Earth to lay their heads because they have run out of options. Many get their only meals of the day at the Soup Kitchen or the Salvation Army. More than a few take the money we give them and use it to buy food for their children.

What percentage of the homeless really do need our help? In the context of what happened last week, that does not matter in the slightest.

As we reported, an encampment of homeless people underneath a highway overpass in Wheeling was wiped out. That is the only way to put it — everything these poor people owned was taken, in an operation overseen by the West Virginia Division of Transportation.

Belongings ranging from camping equipment to very personal items were stuffed into orange garbage bags, apparently to be sent to the landfill. We have been told the possessions included one person’s birth certificate and the ashes of another’s mother. Children’s toys were taken.

No warning of what was about to happen was given to those in the encampment. Fortunately, someone heard about the atrocity. Volunteers set to work going through the bags, in an effort to return belongings to those who owned them.

Though some cities have conducted such operations on purpose, we were told what happened in Wheeling was an awful mistake. Inmates from a local correctional institution had been told to remove only trash and items deemed to be fire hazards from the encampment.

Was there no one present with enough authority, intelligence and yes, compassion to prevent what happened? Obviously not.

DOT officials should ensure it never happens again. And anyone involved should be hanging his or her head in shame.