Only Trying To Help

The day refused to dawn as a cold rain swept down Main Street. Darkness would linger throughout the day until, exhausted, it gave in to evening once again.

It was the kind of day that kept most humans and animals indoors, away from the chill that reached into the bones. Despite the weather, the police scanner was busy. Crime and poverty take no holidays from the weather.

Chatter on the scanner tells of a medical emergency at the Intermodal Transportation Center on Main Street, across from the newspaper office. A report of a man down in the garage brings the Wheeling Fire Department paramedics and firefighters to the scene.

In a downpour the firefighters jump from their rigs and hurry to a man lying on the cold concrete just inside the parking garage. A closer inspection of the scene shows the man is not injured, merely intoxicated and in need of a place to rest. After attempts to provide the man with some help, the firefighters reluctantly let him go on his way with backpack in tow. Later police would locate the man on the street and again offer a solution to his temporary homelessness.

Over the summer, it was not unusual to see people leaving the parking garage or coming up from the river bank with their blankets or bed rolls under their arms. If you walk or drive through the downtown and keep your eyes straight ahead, you probably have chosen not to see several homeless people squatting in the doorways of empty storefronts.

Granted, we are not Pittsburgh or Chicago, where people are living in cardboard shelters right out on the streets or in city parks, but we are not immune to homelessness. And there are entire families now seeking help at the Salvation Army, the Freeze Shelter and through other local agencies.

Some people prefer to live on the streets rather than behind closed in walls. Many of the homeless actually feel safer on the streets than in shelters and there’s no convincing them to come inside. They will take a meal at the soup kitchen or catch a nap at the 18th Street Center, but that’s as far as they will trust.

And while some homeless folks have serious issues including drugs, alcohol, post traumatic stress disorder, or other demons, we can only do so much to make them comfortable.

It’s not always easy. Just ask any first responder or law enforcement officer. They deal with these sad cases each and every day. It goes home with them and sometimes they help from their own pockets , like the cop in New York City who bought a man a pair of boots after seeing him barefoot in the cold.

Later the man turned up again without his boots saying he was hiding them so no one would steal them. As I said, you can only do so much. It’s when we give up completely that we all lose our footing.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via e-mail at