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Time running out on emergency warming shelter

MORGANTOWN — What was a distant but clearly identified problem in April has grown into a rapidly approaching catastrophe. 

Despite months of meetings, outreach and discussion, there remains no agency willing to take on the operation of an emergency warming shelter and no facility or facilities in which to house it. 

Janette Lewis is the community impact director for United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties. She helped organize and raise the funds needed to run last winter’s warming shelter from Dec. 1 to March 15 at Hazel’s House of Hope (HHH).

In an Oct. 13 email to stakeholders provided to The Dominion Post, Lewis said “I am extremely sad to share this news with you but there will not be a mass cold shelter this season.” Lewis mentions the reasons listed above as well as the inability to utilize the former hotel-turned-hub for social services.

Last winter, HHH stepped in to host the shelter and was quickly overwhelmed as some 60 individuals were spread throughout the building nightly.  

When the shelter closed on March 15, it was made clear HHH was not a good fit for the shelter and would not serve that purpose again.  

And that’s pretty much where things remain. 

“Because people started so early last year working on this problem, I think we all naively thought it would be more solved by now,” Mayor Jenny Selin said during Tuesday’s Morgantown City Council meeting. 

Councilor Danielle Trumble explained that HHH has committed to keeping its new day room open from morning until The Salvation Army’s dinner service throughout the winter.

Further, she said Bartlett Housing Solutions has agreed to expand the capacity of their triage shelter from 28 beds to at least 40 over the winter months. 

In her email, Lewis said the cost of operating last winter’s shelter rent-free was $140,000. 

Thus far, the city has put aside $30,000 and the county has put up $10,000. 

“I’m not even sure that finding additional money for it would necessarily be the problem. The issue is there is no organization that is willing to host it or run it,” Trumble said. “If anybody has any kind of plan and funding is the issue, please come to us.  We certainly do not want to see anyone in the elements. We’re working with everyone we can think of.” 

Dani Ludwig was one of six people who came to Tuesday’s meeting to ask the city to do whatever it can. 

“Camps are being cleared out. Tents are being thrown away. How does anyone expect people to survive without some sort of shelter? If temperatures drop to anything like last year people will freeze to death,” Ludwig said. “We need your help.” 

In other news from Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Kim Haws said the Morgantown City Hall construction site was broken into over the weekend and tools worth about $1,000 were stolen. 

He said Morgantown Police utilized the newly installed surveillance cameras to identify the individual and make an arrest. 

“I believe that’s just the beginning of the positive responses and results of having cameras that will allow us to identify and create the evidence necessary to prosecute,” Haws said.