Downtown business owners, Friendship House employees and other citizens gathered to voice their concerns about homelessness throughout downtown Morgantown during the public comment portion of the Morgantown City Council meeting on Tuesday evening.
For two hours, people came to the podium to give their opinions on the issue, with some saying the homeless population downtown is negatively affecting their businesses and others saying it’s not entirely the homelesses’ fault and that they need more resources.
“We don’t want to give them any love, and I have a problem with that,” said state Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia. “As you look and you scurry away from our neighbors, we have brought many problems, but I haven’t heard a solution yet.”
Walker said that a community means unity and that we are all neighbors no matter who we are or where we come from. She urged council to try and find a solution to the homelessness problem.
Kim Noville, owner of the Dirty Bird on High Street, said she believes in equality of all people; however, she sees people doing things on High Street that shouldn’t be allowed to go on that she herself couldn’t do publicly on High Street.
“Some of them I’ve had some confrontation with, where I’m walking and they’re trying to not let me pass and it happens often,” Noville said. “I feel like when I get to work I have to lock the door, and I just don’t feel safe.”
Noville said the Friendship House needs a bigger establishment to fully help all of the homeless, and she urged council to work with business owners, the Friendship House, and Christian Help to come to an agreement where the homeless aren't loitering outside.
Friendship House is located on Walnut Street, where many store owners complained that they had seen an overflow of people waiting outside and getting in confrontations with each other, drug dealing in broad daylight and shouting obscenities.
Proprietor of Lefty’s Place Amel Morris said his restaurant was formerly on Walnut Street from December 2016 to April 2019. While there, he said he witnessed a change from a once charming downtown to a street he thought his customers didn’t feel safe on.
“This change on Walnut Street was a direct result of the Friendship House moving in at 231 Walnut Street,” Morris said. “Once the Friendship House moved in, the amount of loitering on the street dramatically increased as well as people were asking others for money, and people [were] sleeping on the sidewalks. I personally witnessed the selling of drugs across the street, assault and battery, indecent exposure and public urination in the doorway of businesses.”
Caitlin Sussman, program director at the Friendship House, said during the meeting that the Friendship House on Walnut Street can only take in so many people (about 28) at a time and that the shelter alone can’t help everyone all at one time.
“We have had an increase in homelessness and a decrease in homeless services,” Sussman said. “There are many gaps in homeless services so all issues related to homeless services and downtown issues are not solely the responsibility of Health Right.”
“The city website says the city of Morgantown welcomes all people regardless of economic status or life situation, so if we want to be an inclusive community it’s important that the civil liberties and dignity of all the members of our community are protected, and that includes people who experience homelessness.”
Almost every person who spoke during the public portion of the meeting urged council to come up with creative ways to work on and solve the homelessness issue.
Morgantown City Council plans to discuss homelessness during a televised, special work session meeting on Oct. 11.