By RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY
PDT Staff Writer
The Scioto County Homeless Shelter responded with frustration Wednesday to photos showing a supposed homeless man purchasing a large TV last week at Walmart. Shelter Director Maureen Cadogan said it’s important not to let it scare people away from giving where it is really needed.
The man, identified as John Snavely, is often found on the corner of 11th and Chillicothe streets next to OSCO in Portsmouth holding a sign that says he is a disabled veteran, has no family, and lives in a tarp tent in the woods. Last week, Snavely was photographed purchasing a 42-inch Sanyo flat-screen television at Walmart in New Boston and paying from a large pile of cash. That television model was listed on Wednesday for $478.98 at Walmart.com.
“All these people out there who are faking the funk — they are jerks,” Cadogan said. “Those people are out there not because it’s fun, but because they’re making good money, and that spot by OSCO is a huge spot.”
She said she has invited Snavely to the homeless shelter, and offered to help get veteran’s assistance, but he refuses.
“I have heard many things about him,” Cadogan said. “He used to work construction, and this was told to me by a former co-worker of his, and he would leave his construction site at lunchtime and go stand by OSCO. He said he made more on the corner of OSCO than he did working for construction.”
Robert Gambill of Portsmouth said he took the photos of Snavely purchasing the TV.
“I bank at Woodforest and I was waiting in line. I turned around and looked and I thought, ‘no way!’,” Gambill said.
Gambill said he actually followed Snavely from OSCO one day. He said Snavely got into a mid-90s red pickup truck that he keeps discreetly parked across the street from the corner on Chillicothe Street and drove to a trailer home in West Portsmouth.
According to the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office, Snavely has filed several theft reports listing his home address as 812 Bellamy Road in West Portsmouth.
The first incident is dated July 21, 2008, when Snavely reported miscellaneous scrap metals stolen from his yard. He told officers that they did not need to pursue the case, and no follow-up was necessary. The second incident came on Jan. 9, 2009, when Snavely reported a coin collection, knife collection and power inverter stolen from his vehicle. He filed another report of stolen metals on June 24, 2009; and on Nov. 26, 2009, he reported that someone had let his dog loose from his property.
All this from the home that he claims he doesn’t have.
Cadogan remembers the first time she fell victim to a homeless scam.
“There used to be a man at the old Big Bear when I first started at the shelter. I went to McDonald’s and got him a huge bag of food with the last of my change that was supposed to last me for the week. Then I used a credit card at Big Bear and bought him enough groceries to feed a family of three for about a week. I handed him the groceries and then I handed him the McDonald’s food. He put it down and holds his sign up,” Cadogan said.
She was so upset, she followed the man one night when he left Big Bear.
“He went to a house that was better than mine,” she said.
Gambill is a member of the Portsmouth Motorcycle Club and participates in charitable activities. Last Christmas season, the PMC collected more than $18,000 for New Boston Police and Portsmouth Fire Department Christmas gift activities. He said it hurts everyone when someone takes advantage of other people’s generosity.
“It makes me mad, because we get out there and we give to people that legitimately need it,” Gambill said. “That kind of thing hurts us, because now you’ve got to wonder about all that other money you’re giving and where is it going? It hurts us as a community who tries to do the right thing when you’ve got someone like this scamming.”
Cadogan said it also hurts the image of real homelessness in Scioto County.
“The shelter itself was in need of funds recently. Those people just go out randomly, but we (the shelter) had to have a permit to go out there and stand. People just drove past us like we were nothing because we didn’t look like they look. If I went out there in ragged clothes and looked they way they look maybe they would give to us, too, but that is so misleading to the community.”
She said it’s always better to give to legitimate organizations rather than to people on the street. She hopes that the few acts of greedy people do not affect the spirit of giving.
“Don’t harden your heart, because the word of God still says ‘Whatever you have done to the least of these you have done unto me.’ Just do it with wisdom and with caution,” Cadogan said.
Snavely could not be located for comment. He was not at the corner of Chillicothe Street on Wednesday, but copies of Gambill’s photos were posted on utility poles there.
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 235, or email@example.com.