Marleah Donahie is passionate when it comes to helping her fellow man. In addition to holding down a couple of jobs and raising a family, she volunteers her time at the Freeze Shelter in Wheeling. That is where this woman with a heart of gold hears the stories of the homeless who elect to rest there. Some of those storied are truly hard to hear.
Most of the "regulars" at the shelter have addiction problems with alcohol and drugs. And their stories are enough to break the backs of the strongest angels of mercy.
However, she knows that some people who try to help these folks are really only hurting them. She explains that a couple of the homeless folks spend their daylight hours panhandling around Wheeling. The interstate exit ramp on Mount de Chantal Road is one of the most popular locations to find men, and sometimes a woman, holding a sign that reads "homeless, anything will help." For the most part, it is a lucrative venture.
Marleah said handing these folks money only helps to further their addictions. They have food, clothing and shelter available to them, but what they want is another bottle of booze or some dope.
She said one guy brags about the money he gets to feed his addiction and scoffs at offers of food when he is panhandling.
"That money goes straight to the drug dealer or liquor store," she offered. "Don't give them cash. Give them clothes or a warm blanket or food if that will make you feel better, but don't give them money."
Sounds kind of cruel, but Marleah doesn't soft-soap the issue. However, she does ask the public to show compassion in other ways because "Jesus did not ask people to fill out a questionnaire before healing them."
She said that these people do not want to be addicted. However, kicking their habits sometimes takes more energy and willpower than they can muster.
Another volunteer, a nurse, said the homeless often have serious health problems along with their addictions. She and a few doctors and medical students offer their time to help them when they can at the shelter. The nurse said because the Freeze Shelter closes after this weekend, she fears one man in particular will be sleeping under a bridge.
She, too, said there are ways to help these people other than just throwing money at them. Many of them have been on the street so long they no longer have any identification. Without that, the homeless cannot obtain permanent housing or Social Security benefits. She wonders if anyone knows what to do in that situation.
Whatever your opinion of the homeless guy you see standing in the cold, stomping his feet to stay warm at the off ramp, being kind doesn't cost a dime.
Heather Ziegler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.