PARKERSBURG - Bob Wilkens knows what's it like to live on the streets.
The 51-year-old Cleveland, Ohio, native came to Parkersburg expecting to have a job and a place to live, but when he got here, family members told him he had neither and he found himself dropped off at the Salvation Army. That was back in 2001.
"I found myself trapped here," said the father of three.
Photo by Pamela Brust
Bob Wilkens, 51, is coming back to Parkersburg to work with the Latrobe Street Mission project. Wilkens was homeless on the streets of Parkersburg and hopes to help others in a similar situation recover.
Wilkens said he was directed to the Department of Health and Human Services.
"Then I started hitting the pavement looking for work. It's tough to find a job here. I was able to find a couple of odd jobs," he said, noting he sometimes panhandled for money for food.
He could only stay at the Salvation Army till 4:30 and only for eight weeks. "Then you couldn't come back for a year. It was cold when I was here. There are only so many job applications you can do in one day," he said. He walked all over trying to find a place to get inside to stay warm. "But you keep getting thrown out of places for loitering."
For More Info
For more information on the Latrobe Street Mission contact Brenda Ridgeway, associate director, by calling 304-893,9460, email firstname.lastname@example.org or check the website at nfsministries.org.
At one point he was able to get a subsidy for rent for an apartment and find a telemarketing job. When he lost his job, he had to leave his apartment and once again found himself out on the streets. He stayed with family for a period of time, but was unable to stay there.
"I freaked out. I didn't know what I was going to do," Wilkens said. He said he was drinking alcohol to cope. "I've been sober for more than a year now. I quit all by myself."
"I really didn't know anyone else. That first night I was homeless again, I stayed near the Salvation Army in a shelter, and someone offered me a spare tent they had," he said. "It was getting cold. I had no choice in the matter," he said. At first they stayed in the woods off Seventh Street for awhile. "It was good spot, only a hill behind you and you could see anyone coming. You have to be on guard constantly when you're on the streets,. Everyday is a gamble; when you leave your campsite, you don't know what you're going to find when you come back. We ended up down by the river," he said.
Wilkens said he met Shad and Amy Martin through the soup kitchen at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
"They used to come down once a week and drop off food, socks, water, canned food. They would check up on us once a week. I told them about my situation. I was about at the end of my rope. I wouldn't have made it through the winter living outside. I think he could see I was a go-getter, and he said he knew someone at a mission in Clarksburg and he might be able to get me in there. Shad came back about a week later and said he found a place for me. I was on top of the world, someplace to go, a decent job opportunity. He picked me up and took me to Clarksburg. I started doing volunteer work. They saw how much effort I put in and they hired me," Wilkens said.
Wilkens said the director there told him about Shad setting up a mission in Parkersburg and asked if he was interested.
"I've been here three or four times meeting with Shad. I'm going to be a dorm manager, like I have been doing in Clarksburg," he said.
Wilkens said he had always been busy and he couldn't believe it when he found himself homeless.
"It can happen to anyone. One day you just don't have a job, then you don't have a place to live. Being alone, it does affect you," he said. Wilkens said he's looking forward to the opportunity to work in the new mission here.
"Knowing I might be able to reach out to someone and help them through my own experience. I figure if I can get out, anyone can do it. Some people don't want to be helped. I am looking forward to reaching out to somebody else that needs it. People often stereotype the homeless. They aren't bums. Many have hidden talents," Wilkens said. "Homelessness doesn't discriminate. It can happen to anyone, and it's a growing problem."
Shad Martin with Not for Sale Ministries said plans are moving ahead to convert the former Gustke youth facility on Latrobe Street into a shelter. In March, Wood County commissioners agreed to donate the 1611 Latrobe St. property to the Not For Sale Ministries once that group obtained nonprofit status. The youth shelter expanded and was relocated to a St. Marys Avenue site more than seven years ago. By law, the commission must offer county-owned property at public auction unless they are transferring ownership to a nonprofit or other governmental entity.
After announcing availability of the property to see if there was interest, both the Lynn Street Church of Christ and NFS Ministries came forward. Commissioners asked the two groups to work together to come up with a proposal for the property.
Martin began working with the Lynn Street Church of Christ and Courage to Change Ministries to tie the projects together. Martin said the target date to begin the ministries at the Lynn Street location is Nov. 1 and it will probably be next spring before the Latrobe Street property is ready. Brenda Ridgeway has been hired as the director for the mission shelter.
"Bob will be a dorm supervisor, and we're excited to have him back in Parkersburg," Shad Martin said, noting Wilkens' experience will be plus. "It's always easier to help other people when you have been in the place they are at," Shad said.