Morgantown City Council approves plan on homeless camp

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown City Council is taking the inital steps toward dismantling the homeless encampment located in the city’s lower Greenmont Neighborhood.

During Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, counicl approved a plan on a 6-1 vote, to move forward on actions to disassemble the encampment and help relocate those living in it elsewhere. This in repsonse to a notification from the Monongalia County Health Department after a number of health code violations were identfied in the camp. The health concerns included open ilicit drug use, their results as well as other violations.

“I’ve heard many folks advocating not to break up the encampment due to CDC guidance during COVID, however if you read the text, all of the remaining items included in the CDC guidance for encampments curing COVID are not being addressed,” said Intern City Manager Emily Muzzarelli about some of violations taking place. “Such as limiting access, face coverings and social distancing,” she said.

During Interim-City Manager Emily Muzzareli’s opening statement, she reccomended several steps to be taken by the city in order to properly address health and safety issues around the encampment and its residents. One of those involves directly working with the over 20 members of the encampment remaining to find more permanent housing. This would also include the participation of local organizations such as the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness as well as volunteers in the encampment.

“I too cannot accept depriving people of food, I don’t think we need to eliminate volunteers that have been invested and engaged there during this waiting period,” said Morgantown Mayor Ron Dulaney.

The majority of Council, supported the decision to breakup the encampment with concerns stemming from the reported illicit drug use and general health code violations.

Meanwhile, Councilor Zach Cruze spoke vehemetly against any actions be taken against the encampment.

“I just want to point out how offensive this entire conversation is,” said Cruze during one of his moments of verbal dissent. “You all are basically saying that the only reason these individuals are seeming to be helpless is beacuse people are bringing them things and allowing them to be lazy,” he said.

Council mostly agreed with the proposed steps, with the ultimate goal being to put those in the encampment into more permanent housing. This included being open to proposals where encampments can work to be established outside of city limits.

“As the Assistant City Manager said, all of these social workers and people who want to help, they could find a piece of property that’s not the cities, set up a campground somewhere else and meet all of the regulations, that might be one thing,” said Morgantown City Counciler Barry Wendell.

Several residents of Diamond Village, as well as several Morgantown residents spoke negatively about county and city officials response to the encampment as well as opposite Morgantown resident reactions for approximately two hours during the public portion of the meeting. They stated that more effort needed to be put forth towards those in the encampment and until proper services are provided, they will support the encampment for as long as possible.

“These places like the Bartlett House that do their best to exclude sex offenders, to exclude drug addicts, to exclude people that have problems, all they’re doing is making those people’s lives worse, and they are keeping them from helping themselves,” said Diamond Village Volunteer Micah Masonmileto.