Posted: December 6, 2016 at 6:43 pm
By Brett Anderson, Kevin Shipley, and Zach Hohn
The Coordinating Council on Homelessness says 40 percent are chronically homeless in Morgantown, meaning they have been continually homeless for a year or more. Some of them take to breaking the law as a means to have a good night’s sleep.
“Homeless people committing petty crimes have always been a problem in Morgantown,” said Officer Josh Bailey from the Morgantown Police. “They typically will steal something small like a soda or a candy bar,” said Bailey, “but there are times where the crime is worse to try and get extended time in jail.”
According to Hidden Homelessness, a survey conducted by Sheffield Hallam University, found that desperate measures were taken by the homeless to find shelter. The survey showed that crime plays a big part in homeless people’s lives, as 30 percent admitted to committing a minor crime in hope of being taken into custody for the night. The survey also mentioned that a fifth of those questioned avoided being given bail, as a means to solve their housing problems.
“It’s simple, they would rather be in jail and have shelter and food than be out on the street,” said Bailey.
In 2012, Lance Brown, a homeless person from Georgia, was intentionally committing crimes to go back to prison because federal custody had more pros than spending another day outside. Brown threw a brick through the front doors of a United States Post Office and Federal Court Building soon after completing a sentence for bank robbery. According to the report, Brown claimed he was hungry and homeless. Turns out, people in Morgantown are thinking with the same logic.
“It’s always tough because we have the same people doing it,” said Bailey. “We want to teach them a lesson, but we can’t just let them steal something and there be no consequences.”
The continued problems have left many people wary of the downtown area, including County Commissioner Tom Bloom.
“They are taking over the downtown,” said Bloom. Bloom explains it is not the local homeless that is as much as a problem as the homeless that pour in from regional places.
“Those are the individuals that we are having extreme difficulty with,” said Bloom. “The word is out we have free medical, free food, free clothing.”
Bloom believes a way to combat the issue would be to directly deal with the individuals who are causing the problems but mentions that when they congregate in groups and become verbally abusive, people become afraid to do anything.
“Businesses are afraid because they will bust out the windows,” said Bloom. Last year, Sammy Martz, a homeless person of Morgantown was jailed when he shot and shattered a Monongalia County Justice Center window. So what is being done in Morgantown to help the homeless problem?
There are other organizations in Morgantown that are working with the homeless. Homeless shelters like the Bartlett House housed 413 people in 2014. Places like the Christian Help offer free clothing and food to the homeless. Morgantown MUSHROOM, which is a student program makes rounds on the streets and gives free medical care and food out. There also is the Homelessness Task Force which addresses the homeless problem.
Bloom is a member of the Coordinating Council on Homelessness where they adopted the plan Zero:2016, which had a goal of ending chronic homelessness by 2016. However it has been ineffective and Bloom sees the struggles.
“We are not really getting anywhere,” said Bloom. “It is a frustration on my part.”
According to Bloom, businesses and everyone involved get wrapped up into blaming each other preventing any clear solution.
“If you keep turning your back on the situation,” said Bloom. “You are never going to resolve it.”