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Morgantown Council approves plan to eliminate Diamond Village encampment

MORGANTOWN — The city of Morgantown will post notice on Wednesday that no new residents are permitted to enter the Diamond Village homeless encampment.

This represents the first step toward eliminating the site.

Morgantown City Council voted 6-1 to approve the plan on Tuesday. Councilor Zack Cruze voted in the minority, calling the discussion “incredibly offensive” before appearing to drop from the online meeting. 

Interim City Manager Emily Muzzarelli laid out the plan, which starts by documenting the camp’s existing residents and ends when those residents have all been given a housing offer. Muzzarelli said a bed in Bartlett House’s emergency shelter does not count as housing in this regard.

Once the existing residents have been offered housing, notice will be posted at the site for 14 days. Anyone remaining after 14 days will be given an hour to vacate before the city begins clearing the site. Any personal property collected from the location will be held for seven days.

To assist with the transition, Muzzarelli requested Bartlett House expand its shelter hours around the clock and Health Right’s Friendship House return to pre COVID-19  operating hours.

She laid out the background of the months-long situation, noting city administration has been involved with the encampment since before its move from private property in lower Greenmont to a piece of adjacent city property on July 18.

She also pointed out that, much like the previous property owner, the city has been put on notice by the Monongalia County Health Department that it is operating a non permitted campground.

She said allowing the encampment to continue or providing another piece of land for such activity works against the city’s  stated support of the housing first model to address homelessness. 

Further, Muzzarelli said, the known drug use and overall conditions at the site have become a liability for the city.

“We know that this is an area where there is use of illicit drugs and we are continuing that allowance. We’re also allowing people to live in unsanitary conditions,” she said. “If something were to happen to someone on city property, this has now become a problem for the city.”

Muzzarelli said a registry of all existing residents will be in place by Friday. Anyone not  registered by then will be subject to trespassing charges and eviction. She recommended the installation of cameras at the site and increased patrols by Morgantown Police.

Muzzarelli estimated that housing offers could likely be made to the 20 or so residents within the next two weeks.

In the  meantime, council insisted that advocates and volunteers be permitted on the site, as well as the delivery of food and other items. Muzzarelli’s original recommendation would have barred both.

In other news, council voted unanimously to move toward a ballot measure that will double city council terms to four years and stagger elections so that either three or four members are up for election every two years.

Currently, all seven seats are up for election every two years.

City administration will bring an ordinance before council laying out the details of the charter change to go before city voters in April.

If approved, City Attorney Ryan Simonton said the changes could go into effect for that same election, though council will have to determine which seats will be up for two or four-year terms.

Council also voted 6-1 to not seek a ballot initiative to move council elections from April of odd numbered years to November of even numbered years in order to align with county, state and national elections. Mayor Ron Dulaney voted in the minority.

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