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Hope Hill Sobering Center Board in talks to host winter warming shelter

MORGANTOWN — It looks as if Morgantown’s winter warming shelter is headed back to Hazel’s House of Hope after all. 

The board of directors for Hope Hill Sobering Center walked away from a Tuesday afternoon meeting with a tentative agreement to allow Bartlett Housing Solutions to operate an emergency warming shelter in the 5,100 square feet the center occupies on the first floor of the HHH facility. 

Morgantown Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli is an ex-officio member of the HHSC board. 

“What we’re working on setting up is a draft facility use agreement where the sobering center would still be leasing the space, but they would allow Bartlett House to use the space as a warming shelter, given a number of considerations,” Muzzarelli said. 

“Some of those considerations are from the Hope Hill Sobering Center Board itself. Some of them are kind of on behalf of Hazel’s House of Hope and Morgantown Community Resources Board and some of that is in consideration of the city and county as the bodies funding that.” 

Morgantown Community Resources is essentially the landlord and facilitator of the hotel-turned-social services hub on Scott Avenue. 

While the details still need to be finalized, Muzzarelli said she’s confident the space will be used as an emergency shelter open based on temperature/precipitation. 

The warming shelter issue has been looming since last winter’s shelter — which essentially used entrance and lobby space at HHH — closed its doors in March. By all accounts, there were issues. At the time, representatives of Morgantown Community Resources indicated HHH would not be a good fit for that use moving forward. 

That’s pretty much where things sat until Nov. 3. 

With winter on the way and no other options on the table, two individuals — Dani Ludwig and Jennifer Powell — stepped forward with a plan to supervise a shelter at Sabra United Methodist Church with Milan Puskar Health Right providing fiscal oversight and hiring assistance. 

This idea touched off significant backlash in the Jerome Park neighborhood surrounding the church. 

Muzzarelli said it was the willingness of Ludwig, Powell and Health Right to step up that’s propelled the issue forward. 

However, she continued, it just makes more sense for Bartlett House — a housing-focused agency with a shelter already located in HHH — to take it on; particularly when the sobering center space is sitting unused. 

“When this was brought forward as an option, it really just makes more sense for [Bartlett House] to run it as opposed to Health Right, which is primarily a free clinic. Health Right was fully on board with shifting to Bartlett House being the agency to operate the emergency shelter as they have in the past,” Muzzarelli said. 

“There’s just a lot of things that still have to be hammered out.” 

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