Cleanup at Parkersburg homeless camp yields 70 tons of debris

Site not used regularly anymore

Photo provided by John Reed, Wood County Solid Waste Authority director Discarded items are seen below the south end of the Fifth Street Bridge in Parkersburg prior to the start of a cleanup.

PARKERSBURG — Approximately 70 tons of waste and debris have been removed over the last week from a former homeless encampment along the Little Kanawha River.

“We took out at least eleven 10-ton dump trucks of various waste,” Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said.

The site is located primarily on city property off U.S. 50, beyond the Fort Neale Skate Park and Elite Sports Center and difficult to access by vehicle.

“It was unsightly from Route 50. It was unsightly from Fifth Street,” Joyce said. “We just felt it was time to clean it up because it was essentially an open dump.”

Wood County Solid Waste Authority Director John Reed said the cleanup began Saturday, with inmates from the Parkersburg Correctional Center picking up what items they could by hand. City workers started on Monday, and while a great deal of trash has been removed, efforts continue to remove the trees and underbrush that helped hide the extent of the encampment, Public Works Director Everett Shears said.

Photo provided by Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce A pile of debris is shown at a former homeless encampment along the Little Kanawha River this week. The City of Parkersburg has been working to remove debris and waste, which weighed in at nearly 70 tons, according to the Wood County Solid Waste Authority.

“We’ll be working on it for a while,” he said.

Although evidence of the camp was visible from the road, Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin said the amount of material there was “just unbelievable.”

“I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of debris until I got down there on the ground and you could see it, smell it,” he said.

Martin and Joyce said the debris included propane tanks, clothing, wooden pallets, toys, bicycles, tents, tarps and a variety of tools and knives.

“They had built structures and made them into outhouses,” he said.

Martin said the secluded location provided the potential for illegal activity such as storage of stolen property and drug use. It also posed a health and safety risk for police officers or other first-responders who might be called upon to go into the area.

Tim Baer, People Assisting Those Experiencing Homelessness engagement specialist with Westbrook Health Services, said that location was once a thriving homeless encampment referred to as Sobriety Point and people staying there did their best to maintain the area. Those individuals all found housing and left the camp last year, cleaning up the trash but leaving structures behind, he said.

The area was flooded last year, around mid-spring.

“Once they moved out of there and … that flood came in, no one else really went down there,” Baer said. “You’ve had some people that have just randomly (gone) down there to seek shelter.”

The waste removed this week was largely brought there after the last cleanup, by a small group of individuals whose actions are casting others in the area’s homeless community in a bad light, Baer said.

“I think the cleanup was timely, I think it was good,” he said. “It’s not displacing anybody. I think if anything it’s probably helping the common person’s opinion of what homelessness looks like.”

Joyce and Martin said there were two people staying there the week before Christmas, when a police officer informed them the site would be cleaned in the new year and they would need to relocate. Eventually, the man was arrested on an unrelated, outstanding warrant and the woman indicated she would reach out to family members and had left by the time the cleanup started, Martin said.

The city worked in conjunction with the Wood County Solid Waste Authority, which covered the tipping fees to deposit the debris at a landfill. Reed said the authority pays $44 a ton, and has spent in excess of $3,000 so far.

If such situations are not addressed, the problem could grow to a size that would take even more time, manpower and money to address, Joyce said.

“We’re going to be looking for other sites throughout the city, particularly the downtown area, to try to reclaim as much property as we can,” Martin said. “We’ll try to do it in the kindest way we can to try to (get people staying at encampments) into a better lifestyle.”

Joyce said people who want to help homeless individuals should do so by donating or volunteering with organizations dedicated to providing such assistance.

“We understand that there are folks that need our help … and there are lots of organizations out there to help those in need,” he said.

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