Homelessness and other issues such as loitering and criminal activity throughout downtown Morgantown are negatively affecting businesses on High Street, according to some local business workers, and many say there is not enough being done to address it.
“It’s the same people that are always out there. They sit on the bench outside and cause problems,” said Delvante Barton, a manager at Benny Velino’s, which is on High Street. “They’ll grab at people, get too close to them and ask them for money and food.”
“They cause problems at least once or twice a week,” Barton said.
Benjamin Barnes, an employee at Blue Moose Cafe, said that he has to kick people out once or twice every couple of weeks because they will hang out, ask for money and food and cause disruptions. He said other businesses close by have had to call the police because somebody refused to leave.
“That happens a lot,” Barnes said.
Barton said there was a recent fight outside the door that prevented people from entering the business for at least a half hour.
Barton said such issues have negatively affected the business. He said there are people who sit outside and cause problems, causing many customers to walk past the restaurant and won’t come back.
Both Barton and Barnes said the city government has not helped solve the problems faced by the businesses in the community.
“You’ll see a lot of people across the street overdosing, sitting on cars, and all of that stuff,” Barnes said. “The police get called, but it continues to happen.”
In 2010, the Morgantown City Council and the Monongalia County Commission formed the Homelessness Task Force. In 2013, it released a plan to reduce homelessness in the area. Among the learnings mentioned in the plan are that the main cause of homelessness is lack of affordable housing and the majority of people who are homeless are not visible and “are quite different from the stereotype many persons have, based on whom they see on the street.”
Morgantown Mayor Bill Kawecki said only a handful of people are responsible for the issues local businesses face.
“Many of these people come with problems,” Kawecki said. “There is only a few of them who cause problems and represent themselves to the community as a threat. These people come for the services, and we, as a community, provide those services.”
“The businesses impacted are upset because they are losing people who patronize their business, and they are just uncomfortable with the people they see around them,” Kawecki said.
The services that Kawecki is referring to are organizations in Morgantown that provide services like food, medical care or a place to sleep.
Homelessness has been a rising problem in Morgantown for years, according to some local residents.
“The past ten years have gotten really bad,” said Gaspar. “It just keeps getting worse.”
Jillian Kelly, owner of Retro-tique, thinks there are many things that the city can do to help stop the issues related to homelessness.
“We need to figure out how to start creating ways for the things that can be done,” Kelly said.
Kelly said one of the best solutions would come from working together to combat the issue.
“There are laws we need, solutions we need, and we have to work together to figure out what we can do,” Kelly said. “A lot of people say we can’t do these things. I say, ‘Let’s figure out what we can do.’”
The Morgantown City Council plans to examine this issue at the next council meeting further, as it’s on the agenda for the upcoming council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1.