The city of Beckley will now have a committee to address the recent uptick in the homeless population that has caused frustration for many residents and business owners.
During the Tuesday, Aug. 24, common council meeting, the formation of the committee came about after resident Kevin Reedy asked council members what they plan to do about the homeless situation.
“Just one thing, what are we going to do about the homeless problem that we have in Beckley?” Reedy began. “They’re destroying properties now. It didn’t make the news, but on Saturday the 14th, Means Lumber had a building destroyed.”
He continued that weeks prior to the building being destroyed, law enforcement officers responded to the area over complaints of theft.
Reedy was referencing a recent structure fire that occurred at a building owned by the Means Lumber Company.
According to Beckley Fire Department Capt. Ernest Parsons, who spoke to the West Virginia Daily News after the council meeting, the two-story concrete block building was extensively damaged after a fire broke out early Saturday morning. The roof and second floor of the building caved in. However, they were unable to determine the cause of the fire.
He added that any information regarding a homeless person starting the fire is circumstantial.
Additionally, Reedy noted that on Aug. 11, his wife couldn’t get into her business on Johnstown Road because a homeless person “out of her mind” was leaning against the front door.
“They’re using bathrooms behind Songer Insurance,” Reedy said. “Something’s got to give. I mean, I’m not being mean and I’m willing to help if there is a plan in place.”
He added that those experiencing homelessness manage to smoke the best cigarettes and own cell phones that they charge at local businesses. He said the trash situation at the homeless camp in the woods along New River Drive is horrible.
“You go back in there and it would amaze you at what you would find back there. It looks like a landfill,” Reedy said. “Something needs to be done. They are bussing them in here from these other states and there’s a money source somewhere. We need to find out what the money source is and take care of it, you know, because a true homeless person doesn’t have a cell phone or smoke Marlboros. So, they are getting money from somewhere.”
He said that Beckley business owners are considering leaving because they are “fed up” with the situation.
“We are losing our city,” Reedy continued. “We don’t need to worry about bringing new businesses in until we can take care of the ones we got.”
Councilmember Robert Dunlap responded that he cannot think of an adequate solution to the problem.
“No one gets more aggravated than me because no one puts more plants and flowers out in the city to watch them uprooted off the wall of the house I live in and urinate in the pots in front of my business,” Dunlap said. He then recalled how he recently poured a cup of cold coffee on the head of a man who was using the bathroom outside of his residence and had to run off a young woman in front of his business who was “engaging in her own personal service escorting business” as she was picking the buds off his flower plant to make herself a “lovely flower arrangement.”
“It is at a boiling point,” Dunlap continued. “It is the bane of my frustration because I am the one that owns the most property uptown and there is no simple solution.”
He said that while he cannot pinpoint the reason why so many homeless persons are coming to Beckley, he admitted that a part of the problem might be the Greyhound bus station.
“If you look on any given day you can park at 345 Prince Street, and see new people come with their rolling furniture.”
Some of these people have addiction issues, Dunlap said, and while they shouldn’t be “vilified” the town should form a committee to come up with solutions.
“We can’t incarcerate our way out of it,” Dunlap stated. “Obviously [Beckley Police] Chief Christian will tell you that. We spend more money just sticking them in jail and feeding them there for the county resources.”
Mayor Robert Rappold responded that the situation is more of a social issue rather than a criminal issue.
He said a few weeks ago, he received complaints regarding the homeless on Neville Street, so he went out to see what was going on. After speaking with some of the people hanging out, Rappold said that one man told him he was trying to raise money to get to Richmond, VA. The man then asked the mayor for $20.
“He wasn’t breaking any laws. He was annoying people,” Rappold said. “My thinking was, let’s let it be known that if you are not any happier being in Beckley than we are having you here, let me know and let’s have a discussion. We will buy you a ticket to anywhere in the continental United States. We will give you $50 for food and all of your supplies, toiletries or whatever, but that is with the agreement that you never return to Beckley unless you have a signed affidavit that you are a productive citizen.”
“Can I make a motion for that,” Councilmember Tom Sopher interjected.
“Well, let’s stay tuned on that,” Rappold responded. “I mean you wave $50 in front of some of these people and a bus ticket to anywhere they want to go, especially this time of year when the weather is going to get cooler and they want to go south, it might have an effect. I don’t know.”
“We are all so darn frustrated right now,” Rappold said.
The city has the largest homeless shelter in the state and resources to provide food and clothing to people, Rappold continued.
“Love your fellow man, but on the other hand, by golly, these folks have got to be more responsible,” Rappold said. “We know that a large percentage of them are dealing with mental issues and maybe they are not any happier with the way they have turned out than we are.”
Additionally, the city of Beckley will soon have 10 new police officers, once they graduate from the academy, and they will be a large help in patrolling problem areas, Rappold stated. He then agreed with Dunlap that a committee is the way to go.
Dunlap said that he would “be tickled” to be on the committee because it is something that needs to be done. Once additional council members agreed that a homeless committee would be a great idea, and after agreeing to be a part of the committee, it was officially formed.
Dunlap said that those who wish to be on the committee should pick a time to meet. More information will be provided at a later date on meeting times.