WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) – At the City of Wheeling’s most recent council meeting, an ordinance was presented for the first time stating that camping – the act of setting up and remaining on property for the purpose of habitation – would be prohibited if passed.
Any person who would violate this prohibition could be fined anywhere between $100 to $500.
If passed as it is, this ordinance would take effect on the first of the new year.
This cause has recently drawn attention from around the area, urging officials to not rush into something that may negatively impact the community, while presenting amendments to consider.
”A homeless ban in its latest form is not a solution to homelessness. Homeless bans, criminalizing homelessness only makes the situation worse. And if we’re going to keep making progress and making this situation better, we need to invest in services, in the Life Hub, in effective crime management, in stemming the influx of more homeless people coming to Wheeling. There’s a lot of solutions that we as a community, as non-profits, as charities are willing to bring to the city, but we can’t kneecap ourselves with this homeless ban.”Vincent DeGeorge – Wheeling Resident
It has even been argued that this is a violation of constitutional rights as stated by Oceana Smith, a representative from the ACLU.
”The proposed anti-camping ordinance will further victimize victims of circumstance, battling the systems that were never built for them. The word “anti-camping” makes a valiant but insufficient attempt to conceal the cruelty and devastation that would come from this bill if it was passed.”Oceana Smith – ACLU Representative
Members of council recently received letters from the American Civil Liberties Union stating that an anti-camping ban would in fact be unconstitutional.
”We do not want to get a lawsuit that costs the city a lot of money and legal fees and drags out this issue much longer. So, I think that’s something we’ll all weigh as we go forward and make sure that, you know, if we do this ban, we’re not going to be subject to litigation for it as well.”Mayor Glenn Elliott – City of Wheeling
One main suggestion for combating this issue in the meantime has been to potentially create a managed campsite with rules, regulations and staffing for people to go.
”I think everybody is pleased with that and that will make a difference, but it’s not for everybody. We take care of a lot of people who are loners, who have real mental illness and can’t be in groups. So, what do we do with them?”Dr. William Mercer – Physician, Project Hope
These facts do not take away from the fact that others are on the opposing side of this situation, feeling unsafe existing in their own city.
One resident even stating, “When we have dirty needles, littering, public lewdness, physical assaults, soliciting funds while they are walking on the streets, property damage – This isn’t good for our city and it’s also harmful to our citizens.”
Council entered an executive session to consider and discuss all that the near 20 community members had to say but have not yet made any final decisions.
“Homelessness is one of those issues that the more you look at it, the more you realize just how complicated it is. Quite frankly, the federal and state governments have left a lot of these problems for cities to figure out how to solve, especially when it comes to mental illness and drug addiction. So, you know, we’re kind of asked to pick up the pieces here and deal with a lot of people who are, for often through no fault of their own, are in really in the worst situations, living homeless in our community. We have to be compassionate and thoughtful about that. I think tonight was a good step. And I think at the next meeting you might see some amendments to try to make whatever is proposed a little bit more compassionate and realistic.”Mayor Glenn Elliott – City of Wheeling
The next Wheeling City Council meeting is on November 7th at 5:30 p.m. where amendments to the ordinance are expected to be presented.