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Wheeling City Council To Debate Homeless Liaison Position

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WHEELING — Members of Wheeling City Council are discussing the possibility of creating a new position in the city to spearhead efforts of addressing issues with homelessness.

This issue was brought to the table this week during a meeting of the Health and Recreation Committee of Wheeling City Council. Committee members and fellow councilmen discussed a proposal that would create a Homeless Liaison and Functional Zero Program Coordinator within the city administration. That person would spearhead efforts between the city government and the local entities that work to assist and serve the local homeless population.

“Homelessness is a complex issue, and council members had a thorough discussion about what role the city could or should play to help direct and coordinate with the numerous agencies that currently work with our homeless population,” Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said, vice chairman of the Health and Recreation Committee.

The proposal was presented by Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum, who chairs the Health and Recreation Committee.

“This position is tasked with identifying opportunities for the city of Wheeling to build collaborative strategies for addressing homelessness while working to coordinate community services around many of the issues that impact our homeless community, chiefly among them sustainable housing,” Ketchum said. “Over many months, I worked alongside several community members and homeless service organizations to build this draft job description.”

Homelessness has been a seemingly growing issue in the city of Wheeling, where stretches of “tent cities” and encampments can be found in areas along Wheeling Creek, under bridges and even along certain sections of Heritage Trail.

“I believe our larger community understands the severity of the issues regarding our homeless population and are desperate for the city of Wheeling to assist in building long-term solutions,” Ketchum said. “There is no silver bullet to addressing and ending homelessness. The lived experience of many of our most vulnerable community members includes trauma, mental illness, substance use disorder, poverty and other issues that require a strong holistic focus to improve.”

The term “Functional Zero” is identified as a measure in which a community has solved or ended its problems with homelessness.

“I’m confident that if we’re able to approve this position, we will be one step closer to getting a handle on the issues we face and ultimately address the serious moral and economic implications that homelessness presents to our city,” Ketchum said.

Other members of the Health and Recreation Committee have shared similar goals for the city’s homelessness issue, but have expressed differences in opinion in terms of how to obtain those goals.

During Thursday night’s meeting, Thalman indicated that if such a position were to be created, he wanted to make sure the city had the ability to track its success. Councilman Ben Seidler, also a member of the committee, expressed opposition to the city creating this administrative post.

“I am a huge proponent of anything we can do as a city to help put an end to a person’s homelessness, but I don’t believe that hiring a position under the umbrella of the city is the right move,” Seidler said on Friday. “I would prefer to see the city fund a position under the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless, who oversees the Northern Panhandle Continuum of care, and whose primary mission is ending homelessness.”

Ketchum noted that she planned to address these concerns in a follow-up draft that is expected to be presented before the Health and Recreation Committee in the near future. Another meeting of the committee is tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. on June 22 to continue discussions on this matter.

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