New Castle News

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November 24, 2012

Warmth, food a challenge for Tent City dwellers

NEW CASTLE — A tender, pink scar mars the left cheek of Dominick Sansone after a recent knife slashing.

His beard stubble and slicked-back hair frame a gaunt and weathered face, and his apparent soft-spoken nature defies the police record he has acquired over several years from nonviolent or alcohol-related behavior.

A Lockley school T-shirt, partly visible under his open blue flannel shirt, shows off his New Castle roots.

He slouches in a director’s-style chair in the woods, describing his life without a roof over his head and how — at age 55 — he hopes to live to see 65.

With torrential rains, wind and frigid temperatures disrupting his nighttime slumber, he is forced, reluctantly, to find shelter at times with relatives.

His lifestyle doesn’t fit theirs, he says.

He recounts his recent attack by an “outsider” of Tent City, who delivered the scar. The fray ended with Sansone’s face cut dangerously close to his jugular vein.

It was all over two sawbucks.

“He owed me $20. I asked him for it, and he threw the knife open and cut me across here,” Sansone said, pointing to the left side of his face, now healed together by 13 stitches. “Then he said, ‘I should finish it.’”

Bleeding profusely, Sansone made his way to a clearing and an acquaintance came along and called an ambulance.

LIFE IN THE WOODS

In another era, they might have been called hobos.

Sansone is one of about a dozen men and women who inhabitant Tent City, a homeless encampment in the woods along the Neshannock Creek off the Columbus Innerbelt on land owned by the Ellwood Industrial Group.

Some are locals who are down on their luck.

Others are jobless military veterans waiting while they try to reap some government benefits or jobs for their survival.

Still others are transients from out of town.

They walk through the downtown during the day, stopping at shelters for free meals and using restaurant restrooms. Sometimes they go fishing in the creek.

At night, they go back into the woods, sit around campfires, eat food out of easy-to-open cans, smoke hand-rolled cigarettes and drink beer they afford by collecting and recycling cans.

Then, they climb into their pup tents outfitted with mattresses and blankets, pillows and tarpaulins that they’ve acquired through donations from a local drop-in center and a nearby furniture store.

These accommodations are a far cry from the comforts of home, but they get used to it.

When the elements become too harsh, some find their way into abandoned houses for shelter.

Some of them die.

A “no trespassing” sign hangs on a metal gate at the entrance of the settlement, and four or five blue tents with tattered edges are pitched in a clearing off a dirt trail a few hundred feet into the woods.

Tarpaulins are propped up over the tents for extra protection.

American flags and a framed mirror reminiscent of the Addams Family hang along the fence at their campsite, decor they have acquired to spruce up their living quarters. A skillet and an ice chest are suspended there too.

Dozens of beer and pop cans litter the ground.

A pile of paper trash is intermingled with twigs and a few logs and contained within a circle of rocks, soon to be the fuel for a fire that will keep them warm later that evening.

This group of souls are each other’s family by choice, after living in houses with real family or friends has failed them.

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