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Speakers call on Morgantown Council to create emergency shelter downtown

MORGANTOWN — The city of Morgantown needs an emergency warming shelter downtown.

Representatives from the Morgantown Human Rights Commission, the ACLU of West Virginia, the Morgantown/Kingwood Branch of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Morgantown/Monongalia County were among those who made that point Tuesday evening as Morgantown City Council sat for its monthly committee of the whole meeting.

The outcry comes two weeks after city council approved up to $30,000 in support of a warming shelter in the Hazel House of Hope, a central hub for social services located about four miles from the city’s downtown, on Scott Avenue.

Reading a statement from the League of Women Voters, Marly Ynigues explained that a more accessible shelter downtown would be in addition to, not instead of, what is offered at HHH.

The league’s letter also questioned whether the allure of the repurposed Ramada Inn site was about consolidation of services or a desire to “get our houseless neighbors out of the downtown and out of sight, out of mind?”

Mollie Kennedy, a city resident and outreach coordinator for the ACLU, took that point a step further, claiming communities across the state are basically attempting to corral segments of the population away from public view.

“Some of these efforts, while offering services, serve a really insidious purpose of trying to push people who are experiencing homelessness into far-flung locations out of sight,” Kennedy said, praising the efforts of HHH, but calling its location, “a problem.”

Mountain Line runs to the Scott Avenue site from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. seven days a week. After 8 p.m., volunteers are available to provide transportation.

Kennedy said relying on volunteers to transport those in need of shelter will allow people to slip through the cracks, “and, in this case, slipping through the cracks looks like freezing to death.”

Sarah Hutson, representing political action group Morgantown Can’t Wait, said the city has the means to ensure people can access emergency shelter downtown.

“I know that a city that just received over $5 million, the first of two installments of COVID relief, can afford to make sure folks have what they need to survive on a cold night,” she said.

Along with support from the city and county, the Scott Avenue shelter is a collaborative effort of The Salvation Army, United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties and Bartlett House — all of which work out of the Scott Avenue facility.

Previous emergency shelter locations have included the Spruce Street United Methodist Church and Caritas House, also located on Scott Avenue.

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