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United Way, Milan Puskar, Mon Health and WVU Medicine help care for area’s unsheltered population during COVID-19

Janette Lewis couldn’t sit back and wait for a solution to appear. Like many times before, she decided to get involved.

Nearly every day on her way to work, the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties’ community impact director saw the homeless gathering in groups along the streets of downtown Morgantown. And when the news of the novel coronavirus pandemic began to spread, Janette immediately thought of them and knew something would have to be done.

She wasn’t alone. Individuals Janette worked with on a regular basis to address homelessness in the community thought the same thing, and they were quick to contact each other to set up an initial meeting.

In addition to Janette, task force members include Rachael Coen, of the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness; Kari Demasi, of Bartlett Housing Solutions; Laura Jones, of Milan Puskar Health Right; David Goldberg, of Mon Health; Todd Karpinski, of WVU Medicine; and Tom Bloom, of the Monongalia County Commission.

Following the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations for helping those who were unsheltered, Janette and the rest of the Homeless Task Force first set out to create a homeless encampment, complete with hand-washing stations and donated tents. However, when the City of Morgantown wouldn’t give an answer on where an encampment could be set up, it was onto plan B.

That happened to be a motel. The local United Way and a lawyer on the organization’s board of directors put together a contract for Motel 6 in Star City, and the United Way paid an initial $15,000 deposit to begin housing the homeless there.

About 30 individuals have already been housed in the motel, and task force members have been rallying to get everything done, from keeping residents fed and in good health to providing prescription meds and even finding permanent housing after the pandemic ends.

Bartlett is a shelter-in-place facility, helping around the clock. Mon Health and WVU Medicine are taking turns supplying dinners for the motel residents. Friendship House received lunches from Morgantown’s Community Kitchen to hand out. Friendship House is also calling the residents often to see what is needed and is monitoring them for COVID-19 symptoms.

And Janette and the United Way are picking up donated supplies, such as tents and hand sanitizer, and working to make sure food pantries are still on track to support the residents as needed.

It’s not a project one person or even one organization can handle on its own. That’s why it’s important to have so many people working together for the good of our community, Janette said.

“We may be separate right now, but we’re together in spirit. And it warms my heart to see every person on this task force working so hard to keep our homeless and our whole community safe,” Janette said.

If you would like to donate to the United Way’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, text COVID19MPC to 41444 or visit

Amanda Posey is the director of marketing and communications for the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties. She can be reached at