Hearing Held On Child Poverty

WHEELING – When children don’t have a stable home they don’t achieve, and there’s currently a lack of affordable housing in Wheeling, state lawmakers learned Wednesday.

The West Virginia Legislature’s Select Committee on Children and Other Issues met at Catholic Charities of Wheeling for a public hearing on poverty’s effect on children. The topic for discussion Wednesday was housing, said committee chairman Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

A large percentage of West Virginia’s children younger than age 8 have no stable home in which to live, he said.

“This causes toxic stress, and inhibits development,” Unger said. “It creates uncertainty and anxiety, and affects child achievement.”

There are even instances in West Virginia where children are living in cars and abandoned trailers, he said.

“The question now is what can we do to address the issue?” Unger asked.

Representatives of local social service agencies present told the panel it is often impossible for lower-income families to afford housing. The local monthly cost for a two-bedroom apartment with utilities can exceed $1,200, said Lisa Badia, executive director for the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless.

While she praised the presence of economic development in the area, Badia noted those working in the natural gas industry have an advantage over low-income residents in renting housing as their employers often cover the higher cost for rent.

“Our folks working tables aren’t able to afford what the housing market is dictating,” she said.

Marlene Midget, executive director for Northern Panhandle Head Start, said affordable housing “has all but disappeared in the area.”

“Now people are on the street because they don’t have affordable housing for their families,” she said.

Jodie Gardill, associate director of behavioral health advocacy at Legal Aid of West Virginia, suggested the area needs more public transportation. Not having transportation to a job leads to financial and housing insecurity, she said.

Committee members said they would continue to hold meetings on the issue during future interim legislative sessions.