Wheeling Human Rights Commission Holds First Business Meeting After Unanimous Adoption of CROWN Act by Wheeling City Council
Eight of the nine commissioners met to talk about Black History Month, National Fair Housing Month, the Life Hub, among other things.
The Wheeling Human Rights Commission met on Wednesday, February 8, 2023 at 1:00 PM at 1500 Chapline St, Room 103, for their regular Business Meeting. The Wheeling Human Rights Commission is a nine-member board whose members are selected by the Mayor of Wheeling, at the advice and consent of the Wheeling City Council. Commissioners do not receive compensation.
Community Development Specialist Ms Melissa Thompson called the roll. Present were Chair Ralph Dunkin, Commissioner (Comm’r) David Miller, Comm’r Bryant Anderson, Comm’r Elisa Hickman, Comm’r Vincent DeGeorge, Comm’r Elissa Gross, and Comm’r Joshua Lief. A quorum was met. Comm’r Emily Ward arrived shortly after the roll was called. Comm’r Loma Nevels is on medical leave. Two members of the public were present.
The Human Rights Commission began by providing updates on unfinished business from their previous meeting. Ms Melissa Thompson stated the Commission’s commitment to achieving 25 hours education and outreach had been met, with 37.5 hours recorded. Chair Russel Dunkin recognized the Wheeling City Council’s unanimous adoption of the CROWN Act. Comm’r Elissa Gross provided her opinion of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, event that was held in January, saying it was an “effective, well attended event.”
In recognition of Black History Month, the Commission announced the planned relocation of a painting of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, from the Ohio County Public Library, where it currently hangs, to Wheeling Park High School, and confirmed brochures made by the commission in honor of Black History Month were delivered to the Ohio County Public Library. Ms Melissa Thompson noted that the Commission is soliciting applications for a paid student internship dealing with racial justice.
A campaign marking National Fair Housing Month was announced. The designs for the campaign will be created and approved by the Commission, and the campaign will last from April 3 through April 30. The campaign will be on display throughout the city at six billboard locations at-cost and one digital billboard owned by the City of Wheeling for free. There will be a social media campaign to mark the occasion as well.
Chair Russel Dunkin opened discussion on new business items, stating that the Life Hub, a nonprofit aiming to open a low barrier shelter for people experiencing homelessness, has not found a permanent location. If opened, this shelter would be only the eighth in the nation like it. Chair Dunkin mentioned President Joe Biden’s support for reducing homelessness in America, citing an executive order that will help provide funding for projects like the Life Hub. Chair Dunkin shared that Life Hub has helped 150 people since opening their temporary shelter in December 2022 at Catholic Charities 2000 Main St, location. Chair Dunkin also noted around 1,500 people have used shelter services in Wheeling over the last 10 years, and stated the women known colloquially by their nonprofit’s name, Street Moms, could name 250 people, by name, experiencing homelessness in the Wheeling area.
Discussion began on the ‘Third Annual Community Award for Someone Who Supports Human Rights,’ the first to be given in two years after Mayor Glenn Elliot decided not to choose an awardee. Comm’r David Miller inquired if the award could be given to a person who receives support, and not strictly to an individual who provides support. The Commissioners agreed, with Chair Russel Dunkin stating anyone who supports Human Rights is eligible.
Ms Melissa Thompson brought to the Commission’s attention that a citizen of Wheeling had inquired about submitting a complaint about discrimination, on behalf of her granddaughter, in January. No complaint has been filed. Comm’r Elissa Gross and Comm’r Vincent DeGeorge asked if the Commission received updates on cases they have referred. Chair Russel Dunkin confirmed it’s up to the individual, stating “sometimes yes, sometimes no.” Commissioners Elisa Hickman, Emily Ward, and Vincent DeGeorge asked Ms Thompson if she could share Commissioners contact information with people requesting help on resolving their complaints outside of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission.
A slightly heated, but respectful, discussion took place after Comm’r David Miller brought up a statement from a Wheeling resident asking if the Human Rights Commission is doing enough outreach in the community. Comm’r Miller said that members of the commission should be at events that “are specific for issues related to race,” going on to say that many people did not know who the Commissioners were. Comm’r Elissa Gross stated that she was active in the community and many people would recognize her as a Commissioner. Comm’r Anderson Bryant stated he was active in the community as well. Comm’r Gross warned of using one person’s opinions as a monolith for a broader community.
The public was given a chance to comment. The only speaker, Julia, commended the Human Rights Commission for the conversations they had, saying she didn’t expect it. Jula said she “truly appreciated the interaction between [Commissioners],” and that it was impressive to see their different perspectives. She noted how the Commissioners truly cared about helping people, saying “we are fulfilled when we can help people.” Julia also spoke about the Life Hub, admitting she had concerns, including a lack of rules for the shelter, potential increase in crime, and potential risk to the health and safety of Life Hub employees and people experiencing homelessness. Chair Russel Dunkin advised her to attend a meeting with Housing Liaison Melissa Adams, who could help address her concerns.
The Commissioners were then asked if they would like to make remarks. Comm’r David Miller expressed his dissatisfaction with the recent passage of HB 2007 in the West Virginia House of Delegates. HB 2007 bans gender affirming care for minors, including surgeries, which are already rarely, if ever, offered to minors in the state, despite an overwhelmingly negative response at a scheduled public hearing in January. He felt concerned for transgender people in the state, who may now experience discrimination in housing and education.
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