PODCAST | A Coal River Homeless Camp Tale of Survival

2020 Photo by Kyle Vass of St. Albans, WV homeless camp beside the Coal River.

Kyle Vass is the new Minister of Soundwaves for WestVirginiaVille. We introduce you to his skill in reporting stories that need telling with this audio piece. It portrays community infighting over a homeless camp in St. Albans, West Virginia. It’s a struggle that raises many questions about a community’s responsibility and response to some of the most needy in our midst.


By KYLE VASS


Homelessness is something most people see on a regular basis in West Virginia. But what about homelessness we don’t see? We generally assume that anyone who is homeless who we don’t see is tucked away in some small, but cozy cot in a shelter. 

But in St. Albans, WV, as in many communities around America, there are people living outside. No street corners, no shelters. Their home, such as it is, is inside tents and tarps—in this case on a flood plain beside the Coal River on the edges of the Kanawha County city. I don’t say ‘camping‘ as that sounds temporary. Some of these folks have lived there for more than five years. This is the story of that homeless camp, a pastor dedicated to helping it survive, and a community’s mixed feelings about its existence.  


RELATED: Kyle Vass joins WestVirginiaVille Office of Soundwaves


I first reported this story for West Virginia Public Broadcasting in October 2019. I did more work on it as my first contribution in March 2020 to “Us and Them,” Trey Kay’s award-winning podcast, a co-production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting and PRX. The first time I met Trey was in the parking lot of a KFC. We briefly greeted one another, piled into a baby-blue diesel pickup truck and were driven into the woods by a man neither of us knew too well. Making radio is weird.

To this day, this story one of the most labor intensive projects I’ve undertaken. That is only because homelessness is an incredibly delicate topic. It needed a lot time to be handled with care. So, please take a moment to learn about a tent city in West Virginia.


2020 photo by Kyle Vass of St. Albans, WV homeless camp beside the Coal River.

2020 photo by Kyle Vass of St. Albans, WV homeless camp beside the Coal River.


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