Morgantown council returns home and hears a familiar message

MORGANTOWN — A crowd of spectators filled the lobby of Morgantown City Hall and spilled onto Spruce Street Tuesday evening as the city commemorated the reopening of the historic municipal building with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

In addition to comments from Mayor Jenny Selin, Deputy Mayor Joe Abu-Ghannam, Morgantown Historic Landmarks Commission Chairman Michael Jones and Morgantown Area Partnership CEO Russ Rogerson, attendees were offered tours of the facility , which has been closed for almost two years. undergoing a $3.5 million renovation.

“Today is important for many reasons. We have transformed this incredible facility in a way that honors those who came before us and will inspire those who come after us in the future,” Selin said.

The evening concluded with the first meeting of the Morgantown City Council in its rightful room since July 2022.

But even though the environment was different, the meeting itself was a repeat of recent history as the meeting room overflowed with spectators, mainly to keep in mind the area’s homeless crisis.

A group of participants held up signs with messages such as “What are you waiting for?” and “Inaction is action,” as Cassidy Thompson opened public comments by reading a list of 39 names — all, Thompson said, are people who died “failing our city’s response to sans- shelter”.

One of those people was the pastor’s cousin Shirley Robinson.

Robinson said her cousin made her own choices in life. She also said that life circumstances tend to force choices on everyone.

“We need to try to come together – our local pastors, the community – and try to combat this problem. We talked about community. The wealthy are our community, the middle class, our homeless, they are our community,” Robinson said, adding, “Working together works…a house divided cannot stand.” »

This is the third consecutive regular meeting during which the council has heard from individuals demanding action from the City.

The urgency has increased significantly in recent days as it is now known that Bartlett Housing Solutions will collapse without urgent financial assistance. The nonprofit Hazel’s House of Hope emergency shelter has not accepted new arrivals since March 15 and is already expected to close by the end of next month due to financial constraints.

Councilor Danielle Trumble said Morgantown Community Resources, the board that acts as owner of HHH, is “in active discussions” with organizations experienced in operating shelters that could potentially step in to do so here, at least temporarily.

Trumble also echoed Robinson’s call for a unified front. She said all area municipalities and the county need to be at the table.

“Everyone wants to think that homelessness is a problem in Morgantown, but I can tell you that Granville has panhandlers and campers, just like us. People are everywhere,” she said. “Other municipalities simply cannot treat us as if we are going to do everything ourselves. I’d like to see a little commitment, or at least a little concern from any of them, frankly.

Trumble and Councilor Brian Butcher said they would also like more direct action from their council colleagues.

Butcher recounted his own experiences of homelessness, explaining that he spent a year living in a vehicle due to circumstances beyond his control. He said it was difficult for most to understand the pressure that even mundane situations put on people without resources.

“When you’re poor, having a tail light go out and getting pulled over because of it can lead to very, very bad things in your life. There are a lot of things we are not addressing that we could take some pressure off of,” he said.

Some of these things, he continued, would include providing a place where individuals could secure their items or simply communicating more effectively with social services to avoid trapping people about to enter housing for minor offenses.

According to Butcher, he is working with legal counsel on a homeless court program, a ban on income discrimination and other initiatives.

“Especially since Bartlett closed, the enormity of the strain on this system that exists in the city has always been there, but it has quickly gotten worse,” he said. “The people here today who are service providers that I know are probably feeling a lot more stress than I am.”

BHS’ request for emergency aid was among the issues the board planned to address in executive session after the meeting.

Also Tuesday, the council passed first reading of an ordinance repealing city code section 371.10 – the “panhandling” law that recently made the city the target of a federal lawsuit filed by Mountain State Justice.