Ronald Kirkham, left, and Giles Hayes, right, another man experiencing homelessness. Photo by Allen Siegler

FAIRMONT — Life has been difficult for Ronald Kirkham over the past six weeks. The Preston County resident and Desert Storm veteran said that because of a domestic dispute involving a friend and their girlfriend, he is no longer allowed to return to his home. 

“In two weeks, I went from a successful business person to a homeless person on a bicycle,” Kirkham said while eating lunch at a picnic table in Fairmont’s Palatine Park.

Kirkham’s experience with homelessness hasn’t been easy so far. He said both the people who cross the street to avoid him and those who smile out of guilt have made him feel awful about his situation.

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“It comes back to me as so condescending that they feel like they have to greet me,” he said.

Kirkham said that when he first started experiencing homelessness, the cold shelters in Preston and Monongalia Counties were both at capacity. He wrote to Senator Joe Manchin, Governor Jim Justice and President Joe Biden about his situation. Remarkably, Kirkham said Manchin’s team got back to him.

“I said ‘Your system failed me Senator Manchin,’” he said. “[Since then], his assistant has called me at least eight times to make sure I’m okay.”

According to Kirkham, Manchin’s staff helped him find a bed at Marion County’s cold shelter. 

“It’s a place to shower and sleep for seven hours,” he said. “And that’s basically all I need.”

As he is both not registered to vote and unable to get back to Preston County, Kirkham will not be voting on Tuesday. He said he likes all three of the politicians he wrote to, although he thinks it’s critical for elected officials to make sure people like himself don’t fall through the social safety net cracks. 

“The government needs to start taking care of Americans,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the name of the park in Fairmont.

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Allen Siegler is the public health reporter for Mountain State Spotlight. He can be reached at (681) 317-7571.