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Health Right clinic move on hold, Friendship House shutting down

MORGANTOWN — In September 2021, the city of Morgantown approached Milan Puskar Health Right with an offer — agree to move the clinic (341 Spruce Street) and Friendship House (231 Walnut Street) out of downtown by March 31, 2023, and the city will provide $800,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money to purchase new property and assist the move.

A month or so later, the Monongalia County Commission got on board, offering $100,000 to help with the move and another $100,000 to aid future programming.

Now the city’s deadline is rapidly approaching, and there’s news on both fronts.

“We’re in a holding pattern right now. We don’t have a timeline at this point,” Milan Puskar Health Right Executive Director Laura Jones said of the nonprofit’s efforts to relocate the clinic to 10 Scott Avenue, a stone’s throw from the hotel-turned-social services hub known as Hazel’s House of Hope.

Last September, Jones told Morgantown City Council it appeared that after purchasing the building, Health Right would likely still need about $500,000 to complete the renovations and additions necessary to turn the 6,000-square-foot space into a functioning multi-faceted clinic and office.

As it turns out, that was optimistic.

“We’re way beyond that now. The estimate came out more than $1 million over the budget we expected. It’s very similar to BOPARC’s [ice arena] situation. The budget was $800,000 and it came out to $2.15 million for the whole project,” Jones said. “We were shocked, for sure.”

Improvements needed include a sprinkler system for the entire building, three new rooms on the first floor and an overhaul of the ground floor to make it suitable as a medical clinic.

The 10,578-square-foot building at the corner of Spruce and Wall streets has been the free clinic’s home since it moved from 154 Pleasant Street in 2003.

Asked if that building was still listed for sale, Jones responded, “At this point, yes.”

Jones said she’s meeting with the city on Tuesday to discuss the clinic situation as well as Friendship House, which is moving, but comes with its own set of challenges.

Friendship House

Earlier this week, Health Right announced that after nearly 60 years operating downtown — first on High Street as the Friendship Room and more recently on Walnut Street — Friendship House is coming to an end.

Tuesday will be its final day of operation as a drop-in center.

The announcement came as a surprise to a number of people.

“Most of us were caught off-guard with the announcement that the Friendship House would be closing next week, as we thought we had a partnership that would get us through the end of the warming shelter season, to at least March 15,” Danielle Trumble said. “However, as we’ve been doing all winter, we have pivoted.”

Trumble is Morgantown’s deputy mayor and serves as the city’s representative with Morgantown Community Resources, the board that manages Hazel’s House of Hope, or H3, facilities.

She explained that the warming shelter at H3 and Friendship House have been serving as a kind of dual-site operation with the warming shelter open from 4 p.m.-8 a.m. and Friendship House available from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

“We will be maintaining the warming shelter at Hazel’s House of Hope. It will still be open every night but there will also be limited access to facilities, such as restrooms and showers, available during the day,” Trumble said. “Should the weather change, we’ve worked it out with the Salvation Army that the overnight space could be available during the day during periods of inclement weather.” 

This is the model the warming shelter will operate under until it ceases operation, which was initially supposed to be March 15.

Janette Lewis, with United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties, said March 15 is still the anticipated closing date, but additional conversations are underway in light of the Friendship House announcement.

Even so, these are all very short-term solutions.

Friendship House as it has existed is not coming back.

On or around April 1 it will open under a new name, Friendship Community in Recovery, in a new home, 278 Don Knotts Boulevard, and with a new mission.

“The new facility is focused on recovery. So if you are someone who is using substances and you are not yet ready to work on a recovery goal, you will not be able to come to the program,” Jones said. “You could be at the very early stages of recovery and maybe still using, but you have to commit to working with a recovery coach to develop a recovery plan. If you are not willing to do that, you will not be able to participate.”

So what facilities will be open to all individuals during the day once the warming shelter ends?

In May 2022, Morgantown Community Resources came to both the city and county with a request for each to allocate $250,000 in ARPA dollars to finance the creation of a day room at H3. Both agreed to provide $125,000 instead.

It was explained those funds would be used to build out an additional 1,500 square feet to house a day room with shower, locker and laundry facilities that could also serve as an emergency warming shelter in the winter.

Trumble said the city’s money was actually used to renovate existing space and get new showers, restrooms and, soon, laundry facilities.

“The issue right now is they have not yet identified an organization to staff that day room. They are looking for an organization to do that. Then it should be open, hopefully daily, year round, but we’re still in talks,” she explained.

Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom said he has concerns about how the facility will be managed.

“I want it very clear that the county is putting up the money for a day center where there will be programs to help individuals, not a 24-hour homeless shelter. That is where the funds are supposed to go,” he said.

Either way, Jones fears that if a solution isn’t identified in short order, it’s going to quickly become a pressing issue for the city.

“There will be tent cities again. I’m not advocating for that. I’m not suggesting we need another Diamond Village. I’m saying people won’t have any place to go,” Jones said. “It’s just the reality of the situation.”

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