What Can We Do? What Should We Be Doing?

We can’t solve every problem. Ask the families and friends of the nearly 940,000 human beings killed by COVID-19.

But we ought to ask whether we’re doing all we can for people who need help.

Are we? Could we do more to help the homeless people who have taken up residence in Wheeling? If so, what?

They were back in the news this month when Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger announced a plan to tell those at four of the encampments that they have to leave. If they don’t move on, their belongings will be removed, the chief said. He cited a problem with crimes committed by some of the homeless.

Schwertfeger, noting drug overdose deaths among some of the homeless, also expressed concern for their welfare as well as that of the general public.

As we reported, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the homeless people involved, seeking a federal court injunction against the city. Last week, U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey issued his ruling.

In essence, it provides that city and state officials can move ahead, under certain stipulations. They have to give those in the camps to be removed at least two weeks’ notice. Organizations advocating for the homeless have to be notified, too. Finally, once state workers arrive to ensure the encampments are removed, those living there must be given two hours to collect and take away their belongings.

Last Tuesday, a group of people who want more done to help the homeless staged a protest at the City-County Building. They returned for City Council’s meeting that evening. It happens that Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum is one of their number. Among her comments was this: “I’m dedicated to helping strengthen our community relationships so that we can create holistic and comprehensive solutions that work for the long term.”

What solutions? It’s clear that in general, we Americans haven’t addressed homelessness effectively. But what about the state of West Virginia? More directly, what about the city of Wheeling?

Precisely what does city government do to help the homeless? What should it be doing?

It has been suggested finding jobs for the homeless would be a big help. Obviously. But should municipal officials give preference to the homeless — or anyone else — when they have job openings?

Should the city do more to ensure homeless encampments are safe and healthy? By providing water and sewer lines, similar to those in recreational campgrounds?

What about health? There, we know something is being done. At least until COVID-19 hit, the local health department, working with some volunteers, was making “house calls” at some of the camps.

State and national policy are one thing. But advocates for the homeless here can have real impact in seeking changes on municipal and perhaps county policy.

The only rational starting point for that is for all involved to sit down and talk about what the homeless need, what city and county governments can do for them, and what they should be doing.

Perhaps that discussion has been held. Clearly, it needs to be held again. Mayor Glenn Elliott ought to take the lead — with city council members involved.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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