MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown City Council approved partial funding to continue subsidizing the Mountainline Transit Authority (MLTA) route to and from Hazels House of Hope and announced efforts to secure a contractor to operate an Extreme Weather Warming Center next year.

Free rides started at Hazel’s House of Hope in September 2021 for the less fortunate to access services. That year, more than 22,000 trips were recorded, and by 2023, the number had jumped to nearly 90,000. The current arrangement for the free rides comes to an end at the end of the month.

Councilors approved what was referred to as a stop-gap measure of $33,000 to maintain the rides from July 1, 2024, through December 31, 2024.

Fifth Ward Councilor Danielle Trumble explained that many of these riders qualify for assistance programs that would lower the 75-cent bus fare by half, but the MLTA does not recognize the discounts. Frustrated by a lack of preparation before the June 30, 2024, deadline for the rides, Trumble reminded fellow councilors of her requests to address the issue and called on the MLTA to do more.

“The Mountainline is not being a good community partner, and I will keep saying that as long as I have a microphone in front of me,” Trumble said.

Seventh Ward Councilor Brian Butcher suggested a long-term solution to the homeless situation in the city could be rental assistance. He has seen a spike that, he said, seems to return every summer.

“Understanding where organizations can help better with deposits and down payments and things like that or to keep people from being evicted is also a critical component going forward with long-term solutions to the housing crisis.” Butcher said.

As the city deals with the most serious heat wave in six years, one resident asked officials to allow a hydrant to be opened for relief. Resident Lindsey Jacobs asked councilors to find options for people to stay cool. She said other communities across the state are opening public buildings, including city council chambers in some cities, to provide a place for those less fortunate to beat the heat.

“I know there are some places for them to be, but I met with Laura Jones at Milan Puskar Health Right today, and she agrees we need more spaces for people to be able to cool off, access water, and things to avoid heat stroke,” Jacobs said.

Concerns were also raised about bathrooms being locked at the Ruby Amphitheater and not available at the downtown branch of the Morgantown Public Library. It is unconfirmed, but there are reports that library bathrooms are not operating due to improper things, including needles, being flushed down the toilet. Mayor Jenny Selin said there should be expectations for downtown behavior, and they should be enforced.

“Focusing on some of those expectations and that we are enforcing some of those expectations, whenever people are here in whatever capacity, they know that we have a community that is available for everyone,” Selin said.

Second Ward Councilor Bill Kawecki praised the hard work of many throughout the community but underscored the need for multiple stakeholders to come to the table and find solutions through cooperation.

“It requires the cooperation of a greater group of people with the expertise that we need, and sometimes that’s not very comfortable,” Kawecki said.

Proposals to operate the Extreme Weather Warming Center are due to Morgantown Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli by July 17, 2024. A qualified provider is asked to price a shelter at Hazel’s House of Hope that would operate when winter temperatures and weather conditions become dangerous. The qualified provider can suggest an alternate location, but Hazel’s House of Hope is preferred due to the location of multiple services and care providers there.

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