Service Providers, Advocates Sign Open Letter Asking Wheeling to Suspend Camping Ban
“Without the establishment of a managed camp, people will be forced to choose which law to break: the camping ban or trespassing ordinances.”
On Monday, January 15, over two dozen individuals from organizations ranging from healthcare providers, religious institutions, addiction treatment centers, shelters, food pantries, and more, signed on to a letter addressed to city leaders asking for a suspension of a controversial ordinance banning urban camping in Wheeling.
The list of individuals joing the plea include the Mark Phillips, CEO of Catholic Charities West Virginia, Mark E. Brennan, Bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Catholic Diocese, and Steven Corder, Medical Director for Northwood Health Systems and Region 1 representative on the West Virginia First Foundation Board.
Other organizations represented include the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, House of Hagar, Life Hub, Steet Moms, Trash Talkers, Wheeling Health Right Clinic, the Northern Panhandle Continuum of Care Executive Board of Directors, and the YWCA of Wheeling, among others.
In their letter, advocates implore the city to suspend the ban on urban camping until a managed camp is established.
“As it stands, it is not possible for people experiencing homelessness to follow the camping ban,” the letter states. “Without the establishment of a managed camp, people will be forced to choose which law to break: the camping ban or trespassing ordinances.”
This issue of “which law to break” may also affect homeless residents ability to obtain housing in the future, as some may incur criminal charges as they seek shelter during the brutal cold.
The letter goes on to point out the dire shortage of bed space at the Winter Freeze shelter, which city officials have pointed to as the alternative to urban camping.
“Unfortunately, there are only 50 beds available, and with over 120 unique guests between December 15th and 30th, there are clearly not adequate shelter beds available.”
Another issue addressed in the letter is storage of personal items. As previously reported, banning urban camping will mean people will no longer be able to have their items stored on public property. This means they will have to carry their belongings in suitcases, shopping cards, bags, or by any means necessary.
“This ordinance only places more barriers to ending homelessness. Therefore, we ask that you suspend the enforcement of the ban until the establishment of a managed camp.”
Authors of the letter are collecting signatures from community members asking the city to suspend the urban camping ban.
This development follows the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia who, on Friday, January 12, gave the city of Wheeling a January 16 deadline to suspend the ordinance or face legal action from the organization.
In the letter authored by the ACLU of WV’s legal director, the group also asks the city to not enforce a camp sweep and demolition currently scheduled for January 17.
Wheeling’s city council will meet on Tuesday, January 16, for their second and final meeting of January. Currently, there is no mention of the urban camping ban or planned demolition of homeless campsites on the agenda.
Read the full letter below:
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