Cave-dwelling teen gets offers of help

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — A homeless 17-year-old boy who lived in a cave for two months was back above ground Thursday, deluged with offers of money, adoption and television appearances.
“It’s just overwhelming,” said Cliff Welty, quoted in the Ocala Star-Banner’s Friday editions. “Less than 24 hours ago I had nothing and now everyone wants to help me.”
Welty said he was sent to his mother’s Palm Bay home after his father fell on hard times just after Christmas and couldn’t support him. But his mother threw him out after two weeks.
He returned to Ocala, in central Florida, but couldn’t find his father and ended up alone, living in a 20-foot deep cave in rural southwest Ocala.
News accounts of his situation drew about 500 calls Thursday to the Marion County Coalition for the Homeless, which had tipped police to his plight. Later Thursday, he signed a deal to appear on the Montel Williams show.
Welty said looking for a job while living in the cramped, dank cave was tough, because most applications called for an address and a telephone number.
He found occasional odd job, including helping take down a carnival that passed through town. He got paid $130 for 12 hours work, but soon his clothes were dirty and baths were hard to come by.
He ate from fast food garbage bins, begged for quarters and walked the town holding a “Will Work For Food” sign.
“The kid did well to take care of himself, and staying out of trouble,” said Marion County sheriff’s investigator Art King, who found him in the cave on Feb. 27. “He seemed like a law-abiding kid. He had a good attitude.”
Welty was taken to Arnette House, a home for needy children, where staffers tried to locate his parents, said Patty Pogue, the home’s executive director.
Welty, however, ran away after a day and moved in with Michael Ramirez, a family friend. But that arrangement isn’t expected to last long.
“I don’t have a big place. I have a wife and a 6-year-old daughter. He’s a good kid, but we can’t afford to keep him,” said Ramirez.
Arnette House would like to have Welty back so he can get some help, Ms. Pogue said, “but we’re really limited. The child has to be willing to accept the services.”