Homelessness on Walnut Street Creates an Issue for Business Owners

6 Oct

Walnut Street seems to be the most common place for the homeless people of Morgantown to gather, which causes complaints by business owners on the street.

At the Morgantown City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 1, community members of various backgrounds came to speak up about homelessness on Walnut Street. The Friendship House on Walnut Street contributes to the presence of homeless people, as it is meant to provide services for them.

Caitlin Sussman, program director at The Friendship House, spoke up about the benefits that are provided for homeless people through their programs. She shared that the shelter is only open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., people cannot keep their items there and that they can only house 28 people people at a time, which leaves around 30-50 unsheltered homeless people in Morgantown every day. This is where the issue for business owners arises.

“I think the friendship house positively impacts Morgantown by helping those that need the services they provide; however, there is a negative spillover effect from a few bad apples in the bushel that bring detriment to the area,” said Amel Morris, the owner of Lefty’s Place¬†on Walnut Street, in an interview. Morris spoke about his desire to have the homeless problem on the street due to The Friendship House addressed at the meeting. “If my business caused one-tenth of the issue that the Friendship House causes, I would’ve been shut down quickly.”

Morris and other business owners along Walnut Street that were at the meeting all held a common position on the issue. They did not blame the people of The Friendship House, or the entirety of the homeless people that use their services, but they felt that the location of The Friendship House brought a fear of safety to their guests as it brought loitering, drunken people, drug deals, violence and obscenities to the street.

Indeed, if a large amount of community members feel impacted enough to speak up about the issue of homeless people’s actions along Walnut Street, the community should try to find a solution that will work for all of the people in it, including both business owners and homeless people.

“There is no doubt that any solution to this issue is going to take time and be a community effort,” said Morris. “I think a good start is open communication between The Friendship House, the business community and the city.”

Business owners and advocates of The Friendship House seemed to battle against each other’s point of view during the meeting rather than attempting to come together on the issue and work on a solution.

“No one in the business community wants to see The Friendship House close or move,” said Morris. “We would simply just like to see them be able to better control the people using their services.”

At the meeting, Sussman mentioned that there has recently been an increase in homelessness and a decrease in services. Several community outreach positions and resources were cut, which does not allow The Friendship House to fully serve the community in the best ways possible. More space in the shelter along with longer hours of operation may alleviate the issues experienced by business owners.

It seems that the need for more money put towards services for the homeless is really what is behind the overall issue.


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