MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In February, a Morgantown property owner in the Greenmont area allowed about twenty homeless people to begin camping on his property. On July 18, that camp was closed after an order was issued by the Mon County Health Department.
The campers then moved to an adjacent piece of property owned by the city.
Confirmed reports indicate there have been as many as 44 instances of drug overdoses and the use of NARCAN. Residents around the camp have reported instances of property crime, open drug use and inappropriate behavior by camp members.
On Talk of the Town Morgantown mayor Ron Dulaney said fourteen people were either placed in permanent housing or drug treatment by Bartlett Housing Solutions and the West Virginia Coalition to end homelessness. Today, 31 people are living in the camp and the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness has run out of resources to continue to offer help.
Members of the camp have made misconduct allegations against staff members of Bartlett Housing Solutions and no longer want to receive services from them. Bartlett Housing Solutions executive director Keri Demasi is investigating the allegations and hopes to provide a path to again provide help to the campers.
“We are doing research, this is not something we want to rush into,”Dulaney said,”We are trying to be mindful that campers do have constitutional rights.”
For example, the U.S. Department of Justice has determined punishing people for life sustaining behavior like sleeping or camping is a violation of the 8th Amendment, or cruel and unusual punishment. Dulaney says they are thoroughly analyzing the situation using all available resources.
“According to the Arizona State University Center on Problem Oriented Policing,” Dulaney said,”They really stress that we have to give particular consideration to the 1st, 4th, 8th and 14th Amendments.”
Now that Bartlett Housing Solutions and the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness are no longer full-fledged partners Morgantown officials are attempting to address the needs of the camp residents.
“We’re not a social service agency, we’re not a housing agency, but we certainly want to help facilitate effective services,”Dulaney said,”But, we’re not in that business so we need someone to step forward.”
According to Dulaney, the camp should not be moved or closed until the residents find viable housing options and needed treatment or counseling. Additionally, any property left behind by the campers must be preserved and protected. The city has the authority to give 14 days notice before closing the camp.
“We have to be respectful of anything that’s left behind,”Dulaney said,”In Charleston they provide storage for an individual’s belongings.”
Dulaney contends that closing the camp will only move the activity to another location and the people who need help still won’t get it.
“Our goal is to not just clear the camp to clear the camp, because those people are going to camp somewhere else, it doesn’t make the problem go away it just makes it less visible,”Dulaney said,”Our goal here is to make sure we can get everybody that we reasonably can into housing.”