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Warming shelter plan raises questions from potential neighbors, funding sources

MORGANTOWN — Morgantown City Councilor Danielle Trumble said she’s heard from many 5th Ward constituents since a proposal to house a temporary warming shelter at Sabra United Methodist Church became public on Monday. 

“I have received several emails and a lot of calls from neighborhood folks who have comments or concerns,” Trumble said. “They have a lot of questions they would like answered.” 

Trumble said she’s advising neighbors to attend the Jerome Park Neighborhood Association meeting to be held at Sabra UMC (1234 Richwood Ave.) at 7 p.m. Monday. Shelter organizers Jennifer Powell and Dani Ludwig will be in attendance..

Backed by Milan Puskar Health Right and Sabra UMC, Powell and Ludwig stepped forward to spearhead the effort after a months-long push to flesh out a community warming shelter plan ended up going nowhere. 

The group is seeking a budget of $70,000 to fund the shelter from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. for 105 days, starting Dec. 1 and ending March 15. 

As part of its budgeting process, city council approved $30,000 to help support a warming shelter. Once the dollars are allocated, distribution is handled administratively. It doesn’t need to come back to council.

The Dominion Post reached out to the city to ask what requirements or stipulations, if any, would come with that money and if there are concerns about the shelter being in a residential neighborhood.

Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli said the city is reviewing the proposal.

“We are in discussions with the group about their request, but nothing is final at this time,” she explained.

Trumble, who also serves on Morgantown Planning Commission, said the location will mandate at least some additional oversight.  

“This would require a temporary use permit through the city manager’s office because emergency shelters are generally not permitted in the R-1A zone,” she said. “So those who have proposed the shelter need to work with administration and figure out what kind of restrictions or conditions would potentially be applied to that.” 

During Monday’s presentation, Powell called on both the city and county for support.

Members of the Monongalia County Commission said they have yet to be approached regarding the proposal. 

The commission previously allocated $10,000 for warming shelter efforts, but Commission President Tom Bloom said that money does come with stipulations. 

“We have not been contacted in any manner, but I will tell you the county commissioners have made it very clear our money is going for an emergency shelter with a plan. That’s the key,” he said. 

By “emergency shelter,” Bloom means a facility open when temperature or weather conditions meet a certain threshold. 

“For years we had an emergency shelter and never had a problem. What has changed that we’ve had to go from an emergency shelter to a daily warming shelter? That’s something that really needs to be looked at because it changes everything,” he said. 

“When you make it a low barrier warming shelter and open it every night, aren’t you just competing against Bartlett House because they have rules? I have serious concerns when you open it every day.” 

Commissioner Jeff Arnett serves as a board member for Morgantown Community Resources, the nonprofit that essentially serves as the landlord for Hazel’s House of Hope, where the shelter opened daily last winter. 

When it closed in March, representatives of the board said HHH would not be able to host the warming shelter again. 

“It became a problem for the overall functioning of that whole center having it up there the way it was last year. I think of a warming shelter as an emergency thing,” Arnett said. “Certainly, we appreciate that individuals have stepped forward to take this on, but we haven’t heard a thing yet. We’d have to take a look at it.”