Mon County coalition houses homeless during pandemic

STAR CITY, W.Va. – Multiple organizations are coming together to help homeless people find shelter through the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a suspected COVID-19 case among the homeless population in the Morgantown area the Mon County Health Department began to ask county leaders if there was a plan to provide a place for those less fortunate to shelter.

County leaders quickly established a task force of the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, Mon County Commission, MECCA 911, Mon County Health Department, United Way of Mon & Preston Counties, Mon Health Systems, WVU Medicine, Milan Puskar Health Right, The Bartlett House and the Friendship Room.

Chief Program Officer of the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, Rachel Coen says the group quickly came up with a plan to use the Star City Motel 6 for the project.

“We get asked, how did you make that happen, how did you do this?”Coen said,”The biggest thing was having the leadership of our health department, both hospitals and the county commission.”

Mon County commissioner Tom Bloom says those being housed are vetted, required to follow motel rules and are monitored by non-profit workers.

“We’re not just putting them out there and leaving them,”Bloom said,”We will have people working with them, communicating and helping with the special needs they may have. It’s an ongoing process.”

Bringing the homeless into shelter also allows service workers to maintain contact and hopefully help them in their recovery process. The facility also is capable of quarantining any of the residents if they become COVID-19 positive.

“The staff and peer recovery coaches at the Friendship House have stepped to the forefront to do daily check-ins and insure everybody is ok,”Coen said,”We’ve coordinated with Mon Health Systems to get meals everyday.”

Coen says there has always been a positive atmosphere among the task force that has kept them focused on solutions.

“Nobody said I can’t do this,”Coen said,”It’s constantly every call, if this going to happen what do you we need to do? It’s been just coming up with solutions, it’s been really cool.”

Coen praises the willingness of the Motel 6 to make the facility available.

The Task Force is funding the project, but Coen says they would like get the city of Morgantown involved.

“It would be ideal, I think the city getting some additional CDBG(Community Development Block Grant) money,”Coen said,”So, I would like to have a discussion with them.”

Current guidance from the CDC says communities should connect those suffering homelessness with stable housing, or increase social distance in encampments and provide hand washing stations.