With the holiday season approaching, members of the Martin Hall Agency presented the Humans of Morgantown (HoM) initiative at a city council meeting Tuesday.
There are currently more than 300 unsheltered residents in Morgantown, according to HoM.
“One of the most impactful ways you can make a difference is just by smiling and greeting your unsheltered neighbors the next time you see them,” said Rachel Johnson, account service director at Martin Hall Agency, in a press release. “We’re all neighbors in Morgantown, regardless of your housing situation.”
HoM is a collaborative initiative between the Martin Hall Agency and the Morgantown Committee on Unsheltered Homelessness, a subcommittee of the City Council and was created to shed light on homelessness in the community.
“Our unsheltered neighbors celebrate the holidays in the same manner as most of the area does,” said Colleen Lankford, director of Christian Help and member of the subcommittee.
Johnson said the initiative aims to shift the conversation to include people without shelter as part of our community, our neighbors, who are worthy of empathy as well as respect. They are trying to center people and their stories, with the belief that people should not be defined by housing status.
Some unsheltered residents have families to go to during the holidays. One of these residents, Luke, said he plans to visit his family in Shinnston, West Virginia.
“My whole family visits my parents in Shinnston every year. They’re retired school teachers in their eighties,” he said. “I have 22 siblings. When my family makes dinner, they make a little bit of everything.”
Other people without housing have nowhere to go.
According to HoM, social services in Morgantown will offer several events for unsheltered residents this holiday season, “so that people experiencing houselessness have the opportunity to participate in holiday celebrations if they have complicated familial circumstances.”
“They seek and celebrate community through meals, small tokens of appreciation and acknowledgment within their circles, and thankfulness for their blessings, whatever they may be,” Lankford said in a press release.
The Salvation Army and the Bartlett House will host holiday meals in December, according to the Martin Hall Agency.
Martin Hall Agency conducted a series of interviews with local government officials, community influencers, business owners and members of the Morgantown unsheltered population. They found that most residents are sympathetic to the unsheltered people in Morgantown but are often hesitant to get involved.
Johnson said the easiest place to start is being more neighborly.
“When you see someone on the street, try making eye contact or even smiling at them because I know that we all have the power to make a better Morgantown for all of us,” Johnson said.
HoM will host a Community Action event Thursday at 5:30 p.m. on the WVU Health Science Campus. In a poverty simulation, participants will be given an identity of a person going through homelessness or extreme poverty.
The simulation, which is about two hours long, takes people through two months of the life of someone in poverty, giving the community a chance to experience the realities that these individuals in our own community face.
On Facebook and Instagram, HoM shares the stories of some unsheltered residents in Morgantown.
“Unsheltered residents in Morgantown do not consider themselves to be homeless,” Johnson said. “Their home is here.”