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Haws: City still exploring locations for winter warming shelter

MORGANTOWN — Morgantown City Manager Kim Haws said Wednesday the city is “absolutely” seeking other location options for a winter warming shelter. 

Haws has become central to the warming shelter conversation as the only location proposed thus far, Sabra United Methodist Church, is in an area zoned R-1A (single-family residential). 

Emergency shelters are not a permitted use in single-family residential areas, and many in the Jerome Park neighborhood are urging the city manager not to make this an exception. 

The topic drew more than 70 people to Sabra UMC for Monday night’s Jerome Park Neighborhood Association meeting.  

“There’s a provision within our code that allows the city manager, under certain conditions, to be able to issue an exception or temporary permit. That’s what they’re requesting,” Haws said.  

“I can tell you we’re looking at not only that, but other options. I’m getting a lot of emails from the folks who live in that neighborhood, Jerome Park, and they’ve got some legitimate concerns. There needs to be some kind of shelter, no question. The question is where. I haven’t made a decision in terms of issuing a temporary permit. We’re still looking at other options.”  

Shelter organizers Dani Ludwig and Jennifer Powell have said they’re eager to hear about any other potential locations. 

Both attended Wednesday’s Monongalia County Commission meeting to request the county’s support. 

The most recent point-in-time count indicated there are more than 120 unhoused individuals in the greater Morgantown area. Even with the announcement of expanded winter capacity, Bartlett House will have 40 beds. 

If the shelter moves forward at Sabra UMC, it’s estimated the church’s gym could hold an additional 40 beds. 

“This is not to step on Bartlett House’s toes. It’s simply to help individuals who will not have access to beds in the shelter once they are full,” Ludwig said.  

Powell and Ludwig, with the financial oversight of Milan Puskar Health Right, proposed a budget of approximately $70,000 to operate the shelter from Dec. 1 through March 15.  

The city of Morgantown committed $30,000 for a warming shelter as part of its budget process. The county commission has thus far put up $10,000. 

However, Commission President Tom Bloom explained that those funds are for an emergency shelter that opens when weather conditions meet a certain threshold, not a low-barrier nightly shelter as has been proposed. 

Health Right Executive Director Laura Jones responded that opening the shelter sporadically will make it nearly impossible to hire and keep qualified employees. She said it will also contribute to the establishment of encampments. 

Jones said people can start becoming hypothermic in 50-degree weather, particularly if exposed to wind and rain. 

“I’ve heard most recently that Charleston doesn’t open their shelter until it’s 15 degrees. That’s inhumane in my opinion,” Jones said. “I work at a health care facility, and I feel very strongly that we need to take care of the health of all of our citizens, including those folks who are houseless and have found themselves in difficult situations.” 

Members of the commission said they would need to sit down and discuss the proposal. 

They also expressed gratitude that Ludwig, Powell and Health Right have been willing to step up when others have not. 

“I do really appreciate that. It’s very difficult to come up with solutions when everyone can give you a reason why not to have it,” Bloom said. 

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