Did Red-Haired Woman Leave?

Many days on my way home from work, I’d see her at an intersection. Almost always, she displayed one of those “anything helps” signs.

She had reddish hair and looked to be between 20-50 years old. Living outside will do that. She always had a look of despair on her face, as if it had been a long time since she had been happy.

She always looked down at the ground, as if embarrassed to meet motorists’ eyes. Once or twice, I noticed she was crying.

I haven’t seen her for a couple of months. What, I wonder, happened to her?

The big controversy over homeless people at four makeshift camps in downtown Wheeling ended last week.

Those staying at the camps had been notified they had until Friday to vacate them, or their belongings would be removed. When the deadline came, the camps were empty — except for mountains of trash. The camps’ occupants left on their own.

So, no more problem with the homeless in Wheeling?

Hardly. At least for now, what happened solves one problem city officials had with the four encampments. Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger had cited crime in them and by some of their occupants, drug overdoses and deaths as a reason for wanting the camps cleaned out.

In one of the camps, a woman died and her body was left undisturbed in a tent for several days.

Where did the camps’ occupants go? Did they leave Wheeling? Go to some of the 20 or so other homeless encampments in the city? Or find other places to pitch their tents?

It’s not as if the homeless are out of mind because they are out of sight. They can still be seen panhandling at some locations.

But now that the controversy, including a federal court case, involving the four encampments is over, it’s likely there will be far less discussion of the homeless.

That’s a shame. As I’ve written previously, Wheeling taxpayers cannot — and should not — be expected to solve all the problems of all the homeless people in our midst. Municipal resources are limited. Fulltime residents of Wheeling need help, too.

Once again, however, the question isn’t whether the homeless should be Wheeling officials’ No. 1 priority. It is whether what resources we can justify using to help them are being employed effectively. Are public and private resources being coordinated and maximized? Or do we think about them only when they become a problem?

What happened to the woman with the reddish hair? I pray she moved on, but I’m not certain I want to know whether she did.

That, I suppose, is part of the problem. We don’t really want to know too much about them.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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