WILLIAMSON – Many people in the Tug Valley area probably are not aware of the homeless problem in Williamson.
For several years people have lived under the bridge that crosses into Pike County from Second Avenue. Others have congregated and sought shelter under the Harvey Street Bridge.
Some may have taken shelter in abandoned buildings throughout the city.
When most think of homeless, they picture larger, urban cities. But this small hamlet nestled between the hills in the Appalachian Mountains also has a situation.
With the economy on the downswing and drug addiction increasing in the region, circumstances have worsened for many.
It is a dilemma that has caused concern from those who know it exists. If one walks under the bridge along the banks of the Tug River, you will see plastic bags protecting clothing and sometimes blankets or sleeping bags where the homeless sleep.
Amidst the broken glass and beer cans and other litter, people sleep in the elements, no matter the temperatures during the cold winter months.
Janette O’Brien, Director at Jacob’s Well Mission, discussed the local homeless problem in a recent interview with the Williamson Daily News. “We are trying to get blankets, jackets, pillows and things that they can use. The blankets that I have that are Army Corps, they give them to me by the box full. Once they get wet and they tear up, I give them another one.”
“You wouldn’t believe the people that are homeless, and living in vacant buildings and trying to find a way to stay warm. Last year, the churches brought us sleeping bags, but we have about given them all out. We hardly have any left.”
“I don’t really know which ones are homeless and which ones are not. They come eat and we give them dinners to go. If they ask for a dinner to take with them, we give it to them.”
During the interview, a volunteer at the mission spoke up concerning the homeless issue saying, “There is a whole community under there. Under the green one … there are eight to 15 people there every night.”
Williamson Mayor Robert Carlton, who just recently took office, is a longtime resident of the city.
“Every city has one or more homeless individuals at one time or another. They are usually lone male adults. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has Adult Protective Service Social Workers,” Carlton stated. “Survival for the homeless can be problematic in this area if they stay year round.”
“In the south they can sleep on the beaches in relatively mild climates. Here the winters pose very hazardous situations and often the homeless will travel south for the winter months,” Carlton added. “Others may commit minor crimes to be housed and also fed in jail over the winter. They were sometimes used as jail trustees in the kitchens during winter when the jail was over at the (Mingo County) courthouse.”
“The police are constantly on the lookout for life threatening situations that may require that they pursue involuntary commitment for the homeless suffering mental health concerns during winter,” Carlton said. “The last several years of national recession have exacerbated the problem and larger cities have homeless missions for housing to temporarily assist with protection from the cold weather. The homeless often use the services of public restrooms and feeding centers. Jacob’s Well provides meals here in the City of Williamson. Housing at a motel for a day or so may be provided by churches and other social agencies.”
This week, Jacob’s Well Mission posted the following message on the dry erase board that hangs outside of the mission: “Any homeless please sign-up inside for blankets.” O’Brien stated that approximately 14 people have signed up in response to the message.
Although the mission is doing a wonderful job, there is always more help needed from other organizations. And the plight continues.
(Kyle Lovern is the Managing Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.)