MORGANTOWN — In its first year of operation at Hazel’s House of Hope, the city and county funded warming shelter has had its share of growing pains and generated quite a bit of conversation.
That’s not likely to end anytime soon following Tuesday’s Morgantown City Council meeting, during which Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom said he believes there is a contingent within the community who simply wish to undermine the program to suit their own agenda.
Following his remarks, Bloom referenced the Diamond Village encampment that set up next to Deckers Creek, off Pennsylvania Avenue, and dominated much of the city’s public discourse in the second half of 2020.
“They want a Diamond Village 2.0. That is the issue,” Bloom told The Dominion Post.
During council’s special committee report on unsheltered homelessness, the body heard from Bloom as well as Jonathan Board, representing nonprofit Morgantown Community Resources, which owns and operates the HHH property.
Bloom said he believes there is a difference between individuals who volunteer their time at the shelter working on the issues and those who largely participate via committee meetings and social media in order to lodge complaints.
“While a few people bitched and complained publicly, these two individuals [Danielle Trumble and Janette Lewis] came forward to help resolve these problems,” Bloom said, noting “There is a major difference between asking questions and voicing legitimate concerns compared to those individuals who were looking to find fault when there is none.”
Some of the problems referenced included concerns about individuals who were unable to get out of the weather due to being in poor standing with Bartlett Housing Solutions, as well as the need to make the shelter seasonal, not based on weather conditions.
Both of those policies have since been changed. Additionally, concerns about filtration within the shelter in response to COVID-19 are being addressed, as is a method through which clients can signal a bus without having to stand outside in the cold.
It was pointed out by Councilor Brian Butcher that many of the issues that have been addressed thus far were raised by individuals who are concerned about their neighbors and want to help, not just complain.
“Most of the people who have been involved in trying to make improvements have done a lot of work on the ground and also are just trying to bring actual concerns that they have,” he said.
Councilor Ixya Vega agreed.
“I do think a lot of the suggestions that were made by folks in the community have been helpful and have been taken into account,” Vega said.
Butcher also questioned why Bloom was speaking during a portion of the meeting reserved for special committees created by council, and not the public portion.
Councilor Bill Kawecki added that the creation of HHH as a hub for social services, as well as the collaborative effort between the city, the county and the various service organizations to operate the warming shelter is an overall positive.
“It’s been on our wish list for years, and we’ve been frustrated for years,” Kawecki said. “I just hope we can get beyond the bickering and move forward and solve the problems.”