Concrete Pillows For Their Heads

The usual drive into downtown Wheeling takes me down Main Street where I turn west onto 12th Street and head toward the Ohio River. I particularly love seeing the newly risen sun spreading its light across the river, bouncing its beams off the waves and that glorious piece of architecture known as the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. The beauty of that scene is captivating … a pleasant way to start the day.

On Monday, it was more than passing barges or sun-kissed river waves that caught my eye. As I rounded the corner onto Water Street I saw two men wrapped in blankets, sleeping atop the wall at Heritage Port. I slowed the car to make sure they were just sleeping, not injured. Then as I moved along the street, there were three additional men sleeping in those permanent chairs situated along the port. All three were wrapped up in jackets and blankets as they huddled into awkward sleeping positions against the morning chill.

I was not startled to see the sleeping visitors at the port. I know there are homeless people in Wheeling because they are very visible on the downtown streets. I just didn’t realize Heritage Port had become their sleeping quarters of choice.

Previously I had seen a man who made a pretty nice bed on a bench between the Intermodal Transportation Center and WesBanco Arena. However, early one morning he looked as though he was laid out in a coffin so I called authorities to check on him. Apparently he was alive and well, all the while resembling Sleeping Beauty.

In this Ohio Valley, there are many resources to help people who find themselves in dire straits, without food, clothing or lodging. The problem – according to a co-worker who has family experience with such matters – is often a mental health issue.

There are people living among us who do not see life as clearly as we do. Eyeglasses won’t help, nor will badgering them to do what we consider is the right thing. Sometimes they hear voices only spoken to them. They just can’t deal with life as we do without medication or intervention from people trained in such matters.

Even with our help, there are days of total meltdown, a complete disconnect from the world as we know it. And watching loved ones go through the unpredictable behavior or bursts of anger is heartbreaking and overwhelming.

Some simply leave the confines of their homes and head out to places where they feel comfortable – and for many, that place is a park bench or riverfront chair.

They are not hobos from long-past railroad days. Often these are complicated people, lost in their own thoughts. It’s hard not to judge them by their looks.

But I believe there is so much more to the person sleeping under that tattered blanket whose worldly possession are neatly bundled into a Walmart shopping bag. So very much more …

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.