MORGANTOWN, W.Va. Morgantown City Council heard a procession of comments calling for changes to policies and better treatment of the homeless community.

Sarah Hutson explained that a tent could be the first step to transitional housing. Allowing existing camps in the city to be removed forces those residents to lose important documents they need to access social services. For less than $1,500, the city could purchase 50 bins that could be locked and used by homeless people to store important documents and items.

“Birth certificate, social security card, and one sweep, and that’s all gone; you have nothing,” Hutson said. “So, having a place where folks can keep stuff is vital for them to move forward.”

South Park Resident Lesley Nash urged council members to develop a blueprint to establish a housing first program. The program recognizes housing as a human right, not tied to personal responsibility, substance abuse, or mental illness. The program views a community with a homeless population as one that simply does not have enough homes for the residents that live there.

“This is a program that will see huge savings,” Nash said. “Not just in terms of finances, but also in terms of quality of life, quality of community, and the willingness of people to trust their government, trust their community, and trust the people that represent them.”

Rabbi Zalman Gurevitz lives downtown with his wife and nine children. He lives downtown because he works with students, and to maintain his faith, he must be within walking distance of work. Zalman told council members the views from his windows are R-rated, and he has to inspect his yard before he lets his children go outside to play. Based on the things he has seen, he carries Narcan daily.

Zalman said one afternoon he saw what he thought was a male in his 20s injecting drugs into a female, and he said, “It shook me to my core.” As a volunteer at the federal prison, Zalman expressed his concern to an inmate looking for ways to help the people.

“Rabbi, I know you’re not going to want to hear this, but this is the truth,” Rabbi Zalman said. “The only way to help them is to make it harder for them to be addicted to drugs than it is to go into recovery.”

Seventh Ward Councilor Brian Butcher said he has meetings with the Fairmont Morgantown Housing Authority to find ways to expand the Section 8 voucher program and improve the available housing stock. Butcher learned that when a house is taken off the list due to repairs, it may not return if the owner decides to make the repairs and remove it from the program. In many cases, the housing stock left to add to the voucher program is substandard, according to Butcher.

“They feel the only people deserving of them are houseless people,” Butcher said. “So, our unhoused neighbors end up living in substandard housing in certain instances.”

Morgantown Immigration Attorney Amy Lewis represents many homeless clients who face extra obstacles in Morgantown. Some are being rejected from Bartlett House because they don’t have the proper immigration documentation, and some agencies do not accept forms in any language other than English.

“Our city needs to do better to remove barriers and hurdles to get people into housing, including immigrants, non-English speakers, and illiterate individuals,” Lewis said. “Everyone should be able to access shelter regardless of their national origin.”

Fifth Ward Councilor Danielle Trumble wants to begin planning for the seasonal warming shelter now and look at options for the 28-bed space formerly operated by the Bartlett House at Hazel’s House of Hope. Trumble wants to work with the county commission, other municipalities, and other agencies to solve the warming and the overall shelter issue.

Another meeting is being organized on the issue on May 16. The list of participants is not yet determined.