WHEELING, W.Va. — While Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott says he supports the efforts by the city’s police chief to handle crime at homeless camps in town by taking them down, he wants better collaboration between the city and organizations to help these individuals being impacted by the dismantling.
Elliott told MetroNews the recent ruling by U.S. District Judge John Bailey to give citizens a minimum two weeks notice before taking down any homeless encampments is a ‘good compromise.’
The ruling came after a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU) against the City of Wheeling for the original immediate teardown notices of four camps in early September led by police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger.
The city said there had been rising criminal activity at certain camps mentioned in the ruling including fires, drug activity, a reported assault, and a body found several days after death.
“I certainly understand the desire of the police chief to want to promote public safety within the city,” Elliott said Monday. “If you are seeing high incidents of criminal activity in a very small geographic area your options are limited into what you can do, you have to take action.”
“I think we will work very closely with members of the camps and with members with various social services agencies to make sure those people who are displaced can find somewhere else to go. We certainly don’t want to leave people with nowhere to go but we just could not tolerate the level of activity we have seen at those camps.”
The ruling by Bailey put down Wednesday included:
– The City of Wheeling shall post notices of its intended action at any encampment to be removed in such places as are most likely to be seen and read by the inhabitants thereof;
– Such notices must be posted at least two (2) weeks prior to the intended action;
– The City of Wheeling must provide at least two (2) weeks written notice to the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless, Project Hope, and any other group or agency which requests to be included in such notifications.
– On the day upon which crews show up to dismantle an encampment, the crews must, upon request, give any inhabitants present a period of two hours in which to remove their personal property.
Schwertfeger told WTOV-TV in Wheeling he supported the ruling.
Elliott told MetroNews the city council and Schwertfeger will work to take several actions with support of social service agencies in town including creating new positions and adding services for drug addiction and mental illness.
“I think sometimes we are not always working on the same page. I have talked with the city council about coming up with ways where the city can have a bigger voice in that conversation, maybe fund a homeless liaison position where someone can reach out to all these organizations and make sure they are all on the same page,” Elliott said.
“We must be the Friendly City that we say we are. I think we are the Friendly City. The reason we have a lot of homeless camps is because we are a city that has a lot of organizations that bend over backward to help folks in need.”
Elliott added there are around 20 encampments in town but only four will be taken down by the Oct. 1 deadline with the ruling. He said the Division of Highways supports the relocation and will be performing most of the relocation as its on their property.