WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) – According to the Wheeling Police Department, 40% of crimes committed this past summer were levied against those living in encampments throughout the city.
The homeless population is something that Wheeling is no stranger to, and the city has recently appointed a homeless liaison to assist with these unhoused individuals, but it seems as though the problems are evergreen.
This is an issue arising nationally, however, and falls into the hands of cities to pick up the pieces.
”We’ve been working in the city of Wheeling as a city government and as social service agencies for many, many years to address this. And it hasn’t gotten better. I think that it is a conversation about mental illness and addiction. It is a conversation about affordable housing and access to housing. And that’s something that we’re working toward. But we really need to be leveraging our experience with our state legislators and our federal government.”Rosemary Ketchum – Ward 3, Wheeling City Council
Last week, the Parkersburg City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting camping on public property and it has grabbed the attention of officials regionally – including here in the City of Wheeling.
”I think it is in the best interest of our community at this point in time that we pass an ordinance that makes it unlawful to camp on private property, including right of ways, easements, parks, playgrounds, and under bridges.”Jerry Sklavounakis – Ward 4 – Wheeling City Council
This ordinance has not yet hit the desks of Wheeling City Councilmembers, but its potential is what concerns community members who spoke out at the most recent city council meeting.
On Friday, September 29th, homeless liaison Melissa Adams announced that she was informed by the city that she must post a 2-week eviction notice for unhoused individuals camping in East Wheeling – one of the last spaces they are permitted.
”Any person who is concerned with inclusion and the protection of life has to be concerned with what’s going on in the City of Wheeling right now, because this is a highly ethical question that we have to answer. Where do people go who don’t have a place to stay and what are we going to do with them if we’re going to criminalize them or say you shouldn’t exist? The City of Wheeling has a very concerning problem.”Kate Marshall – House of Hagar Catholic Worker
In the words of Mayor Glenn Elliott, there are two sides to this story that are being taken into consideration to find a balance.
”To the people who showed up tonight, I certainly appreciate your perspective, but we also get emails and complaints from people who are dealing with a lot of crime and other things that are in their backyards that they shouldn’t be in a civilized city.”Mayor Glenn Elliott – City of Wheeling
This take was echoed by councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum.
”Those two experiences are valid and it’s really difficult to find the balance, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to do that as a council.”Rosemary Ketchum – Ward 3, Wheeling City Council
Overall, the want from the community IS that balance, if the city of Wheeling decides to follow in the footsteps of Parkersburg.
”We need a solution for this. And not just you can’t stay there because there are people too. And everybody needs a safe place to go. So hopefully the solution is finding a safe place for these individuals to go and to sleep and to stay still.”Ashlie Kotson – Northern Regional Director, Catholic Charities
Again, no ordinance has been made in Wheeling just yet, but there is a possibility that there will be one at the next City Council Meeting on October 17th.