Community, Latest News, Morgantown Council

Diamond in the Rough

Homeless encampment finds a new home

This is not a new issue.

That’s how Mylan Puskar Health Right Executive Director Laura Jones opened a letter to members of Morgantown City Council referencing the Diamond Village homeless encampment.

The camp moved from private property in lower Greenmont to an adjacent piece of city property on July 18. A group representing the camp said it intends to stay there until the city engages representatives of the camp in search of a long term solution.

“City employees are not going there regularly, however, the city manager and some council members went there today [July 23] to talk to the campers and ask what they thought may be the gaps in services, what they feel a good permanent solution may look like and just generally to build some rapport with them,” Morgantown Communications Manager Andrew Stacy said when asked if Morgantown police or code enforcement are visiting the camp.

The city has not posted notice that the camp needs to vacate the property, which would start a 14-day window before it could remove the inhabitant’s property.

This policy dates back to late 2019, when the city came under fire after social media posts showed city employees breaking up an encampment known as Angel Village near the South High Street Bridge.

Tonya Stalnaker, a former resident of Angel Village and a current resident of Diamond Village, said people, housed or no, need community.

“Our community has rebuilt over and over. I headed a camp last year that got shut down under the South High Street bridge. That was a community where we felt safe, where people could come to,” Stalnaker told Morgantown City Council. “We’re one big family, just like South Park or Star City or Westover. We’re the same as everyone. Everyone deserves a place that they can go to.”

Jones pointed out, as others have, that breaking up a homeless encampment goes against CDC guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also noted that many resources typically available to the unsheltered are either closed or restricted due to the pandemic.

“MPHR would like to support the city and other local stakeholders in developing a short-term and longer-term plan to keep Diamond Village running on property in, or very near, downtown – especially during COVID-19 – and with appropriate services necessary to keep it safe and sanitary,” Jones said.

Jones went on to say that 44 overdoses have been reversed through the use of Naloxone in Diamond Village.

When asked what assistance the city is providing, Stacy said some trash was hauled from the previous site of the camp. He said the city has not given the property to the camp.

“Nor do we have a finalized plan as to what to do yet,” Stacy said.

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The former camp site, which was located on private property off Pennsylvania Avenue in lower Greenmont.