Morgantown officials, local organizations meet to discuss unsheltered homeless

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Local organizations working with the unsheltered homeless populations in Morgantown are expected to make some changes for the 2023 operating year.

A meeting with Bartlett Housing Solutions, Resources Applied for Mutual Progress (RAMP), Milan Pushkar Health Right, the Monongalia County Warming Shelter, and the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness held the meeting after at least two years of of making adjustments to run an effective warming shelter and serve the unsheltered population. RAMP representative ans Morgantown City Councilor Brian Butcher attended, and he included ways to bring more members of the unsheltered homeless population in Morgantown the services they need.

“What we were trying to do today was identify gaps that we see when we’re providing direct service and then what we can do to fill those gaps,” said Butcher on what was discussed.

One area that Butcher mentioned as a major talking point involved direct contact with the unsheltered homeless population in Morgantown and communication between entities that serve them. An improved infrastructure of services that would complement agencies working out of Hazel’s House of Hope combined with an effort to meet the unsheltered homeless in areas where they’re known to gather (i.e., on the streets) are areas of focus as they get into 2023. This is based on conversations with Kerri DeMasi Koontz of Bartlett House, Laura Jones from Milan Puskar Health Right, Becky Rodd from the Monongalia County Warming Shelter, and the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, who all attended the meeting.

“Instead, it’s more like, “How do we support each other through each step of the way?” said Butcher on what the agencies aim to improve on in 2023? “And I think that’s what this is all supposed to be about,” he said.

Planning for services such as the warming shelter and ways to progress people out of homelessness is also an area of expected improvement for 2023. According to Butcher, preparations for the Monongalia County Warming Shelter were done with not enough time to account for delays in supplies and to reach out to the unsheltered homeless who were unaware of the shelter itself. Now, the groups have two years of experience to reflect on while planning.

“The issues that we faced from just this past year and the year before that was we kind of got maybe one or two months out and we were like ‘Oh my God, we don’t have a place for people to not freeze to death,” he said. “That’s really what we’re trying to avoid happening again,” he said.

According to the Point-in-Time count, approximately 122 people are currently considered unsheltered homeless. That number is expected to fluctuate in 2023, which in turn has lead to concerns of not only providing services, but also a rise of crime that has already been attributed to unsheltered homeless in downtown Morgantown. Butcher hopes that a true infrastructure of “wrap-around services” will improve mental health options and will not only improve efforts to address the unsheltered homeless but also crime concerns in Morgantown.

“And that’s what we’re trying to reverse, by making sure that people understand that, A, we’re working hard on support going towards the future,” said Butcher on getting unsheltered homeless to participate in the services. “And B, that we’re working hard to connecting them to what’s already there,” he said.