How to Handle Wheeling-Area Panhandlers

My wife and I moved to Wheeling nearly five decades ago. And now we are enjoying our retirement on Wheeling Island, the place where we raised our four wonderful children.  However, recently we have been infested, not with cicadas, but with human leeches — the Panhandlers!

I, personally, have much empathy for the poor, and give to local and national charities.  But these so-called, needy “panhandlers” in the Wheeling area have taken the art of begging to new heights — pressuring local Wheeling motorists for money, as well as travelers from eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania coming to the “Friendly City.”

I witnessed one aggressive panhandler knocking on the driver’s side window of a car stopped at the red light by Abbey’s Restaurant on Zane and Huron Streets, that was headed to Bridgeport. He was actually badgering the woman driver for money. Terrified, she sped off when the light turned green.

On a more personal note, I was cleaning the inside of my automobile in front of my house when a perennial Island panhandler said, “Do you have 50 cents to spare for a veteran?”

I replied, “Tell you what; I’ll give you $5 if you show me your veteran’s card.”

Of course, the man could not produce one. He gave some lame excuse and walked sheepishly away.

I was infuriated, and had to bite my tongue with expletives I wanted to shout at this human trash for masquerading as someone who was in the armed forces.

Why? I have one son who was a U.S. Marine Corps senior drill instructor and another who has made a career of the U.S. Army, serving three tours of duty in Iraq. Such phony behavior is an insult to those honorable men and women in the military who have so courageously served our country — many making the supreme sacrifice to preserve our freedom.

The motives of these low-lives have nothing to do with the need for food or shelter — but for the want of booze, drugs, and cigarettes. I followed one Island panhandler into a gas station where he purchased beer on his sponging-break.

Recently, I spoke to a cashier at a local super market who (out of compassion) bought a sandwich and drink for a panhandler in the Bridgeport-Martins Ferry area. The panhandler was extremely agitated by her generosity and vehemently complained, “I want money, not food!”

Then there are the area panhandlers who try to shame or make area motorists feel guilty with such religious signs as “God Will Bless You for Giving,” or pass out cards that read, “Free Ticket to Heaven.” I don’t know about you, but I consider it blasphemy, using God’s name in vain.

What irreverence!

These human parasites, who work in teams, can be observed on Wheeling Island, entering Wheeling’s Main Street from I-70 east, and near Perkins Restaurant, where motorists are coming down the ramp into the Fulton area.

In fact, last week on Wheeling Island, I actually witnessed one of these obnoxious creeps press the pedestrian button to cross Zane Street, causing cars to wait longer at the red light — so he could further harass motorists for money.

Needless to say, many Wheeling residents can not understand why the city fathers have not rid us of these deadbeats.

Unfortunately, local authorities’ hands are tied due to federal human rights regulations that permit such panhandling or vagrancy to occur.

Not allowing these frauds to coerce motorists (and even pedestrians) to give money would be infringing upon their individual rights.

Last month I asked a member of Wheeling City Council why they couldn’t create an ordinance banning panhandling in the community. The civic leader was very receptive, but informed me, “Bill, we as a city could be sued by the ACLU for depriving them of their privileges as Americans.”

But there is something we can do as honest, hardworking local citizens — and that is to totally shun these immoral and unethical culprits, giving them not even one single penny.

Instead, if you truly care for the less unfortunate in our community, support the many local organizations that legitimately assist those sincere individuals who have truly experienced hardships in their lives — and want nothing to do with free-loading.

I hate to be the harbinger of one of life’s realities using a cliche, but it is so true — “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Again I implore you, completely ignore these unscrupulous and unsavory characters — who have actually been known to urinate and defecate in public — and these miscreants will have no choice but to move elsewhere or just maybe, change their devious ways!

Guest columnist William Welker, Ed.D., is a Wheeling resident who retired after serving as an educator from 1969-2009. He is a nationally recognized expert on wrestling who has published hundreds of articles and a book on the subject. His e-mail is mattalkwv@hotmailcom

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