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Meeting over warming shelter crowded, chaotic

MORGANTOWN — A Jerome Park Neighborhood Association meeting in the basement of Sabra United Methodist Church was drowned out by shouting from the main floor sanctuary Monday evening as tempers flared over a proposal to house a winter warming shelter in the church. 

A crowd of approximately 70 people turned out for what was envisioned as an information session. 

While it did eventually get there, the early moments were heated, loud and largely chaotic as individuals on both sides of the issue attempted to speak over one another. 

The main question on many minds was how a church in a residential neighborhood came to be the only viable site for the shelter. 

“People have been working on this issue since April and there’s been nobody who’s stepped up to do this,” Dani Ludwig said. “If you can find another location, I’d work with them to get it in another location. Right now, the pastor has been kind enough to let us use the gym.” 

Ludwig and Jennifer Powell pulled together the shelter plan and will serve as its supervisors if it’s ultimately approved.  

That decision falls with the city manager’s office, which will have to issue a temporary permit to allow an emergency shelter in an area zoned R-1A (single family residential). 

Powell said the plan is to have 12-15 employees, plus volunteers. There will likely be four people staffing the facility each night for as many as 40 beds. 

In addition to working on site, volunteers will be tasked with driving the neighborhood to ensure those using the shelter are not loitering in the surrounding area. It was explained there will be bus passes provided and vans available to drive people to and from the church. 

“We’re really trying to do our best here so that everybody is OK with what’s going on. I’m not here to spread hate. I’m not here to argue,” Ludwig said, later adding, “I understand the fear. I’m a mother … I’m asking you to please trust me.” 

The use of drugs or alcohol in the shelter would be grounds for removal. If someone leaves the shelter, they cannot return that night.  

It will run from Dec. 1 through March 15. There remain questions about whether the shelter will open every night or be open based on weather conditions. 

Organizers said they have spoken with Morgantown Police Chief Eric Powell and other officers about their plan and the possibility of additional patrols in the area. 

The skepticism from some in attendance stems from a previous attempt to use the church as a shelter. 

“Three years or so ago I had a shelter here before. It lasted about 10 or 12 days. I very much ran it by myself. We had a maximum of about 22 people here,” Pastor Stephen Prince said.  

Milan Puskar Health Right will handle financial management and assist with hiring. 

The neighborhood is planning another meeting for 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the church.