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City of Wheeling Fills New Homeless Liaison Position

WHEELING — A polarizing new position on the city of Wheeling’s payrolls has been filled, and work to help resolve the city’s growing problem with homelessness is slated to begin later this month.

City council members created the Function Zero Homeless Liaison position in July. The measure narrowly passed with a vote of 4-3. On Tuesday afternoon, Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron announced that he had appointed a candidate to serve in the new role.

“The newly created Homeless Liaison position has been filled,” Herron said during Tuesday’s meeting of Wheeling City Council. “Amanda White, who comes to us from The Health Plan has been appointed to that position, and she will begin her duties on Sept. 20.”

After no clear consensus on the Homeless Liaison position was reached among city leaders earlier this summer, a compromise put forth was to make the position temporary at first. The new position will “sunset” in three years, and members of the next city council cycle will have to decide whether or not to keep this full-time position on the city’s books.

Officials have indicated that success will likely dictate whether or not the position will continue or become permanent. For some on city council, that means action must be taken to reduce or eliminate the number of people living in tents in encampments throughout the city.

Homeless encampments have been a regular sight in the city in recent years. Tent cities have popped up along Wheeling Creek and under bridges throughout the city. Wheeling officials have noted that this is a complex issue that will likely have to involve coordination among a number of local agencies that work with the local homeless community.

On Tuesday, Herron said White’s salary will be $48,000 and will be paid using Community Development Block Grant funds through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

Wheeling’s homeless situation and its struggles to find a feasible solution have put the city in a statewide and even a national spotlight over the past year. Time Magazine presented a feature story and photo expose on the lingering crisis in Wheeling, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed legal action against the city last year after police initiated a plan to remove encampments from state property that had become the source for a flood of criminal complaints.

In July, the Homeless Liaison position was created by a thin majority of council members supporting the legislation. Mayor Glenn Elliott, Vice Mayor Chad Thalman and Councilman Ty Thorngate supported the measure, which was brought forth through the Health and Recreation Committee of Council and spearheaded by the committee’s chair, Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum, who also voted in support of the new position’s creation.

Councilmen Ben Seidler, Jerry Sklavounakis and Dave Palmer voted against the creation of the Function Zero Homeless Liaison.

Ketchum noted that other cities across the country have successfully adopted similar positions to work in tandem with existing community services. Ketchum said this is a first step toward “mending relationships, building trust and ultimately creating a unified front to dramatically reduce homelessess in Wheeling.”

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