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Wheeling officials consider creating city position to address homelessness

WHEELING, W.Va. — Leaders in Wheeling are debating whether to create a city position meant to coordinate efforts addressing homelessness.

Members of the city council’s Health and Recreation Committee, chaired by councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum, approved the matter to a full council for consideration after thorough discussions in the past week.

The proposal, approved in committee by Ketchum and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, would create a Homeless Liaison and Functional Zero Program Coordinator within the city administration, working under the city clerk.

Ketchum told MetroNews she has worked on this proposal and job description since she was elected in June of last year and beyond as a professional working in public health. She said community members are concerned more encampments are popping up every year, including the areas under bridges, along Wheeling Creek and the Heritage Trail.

Rosemary Ketchum

“The city of Wheeling has an opportunity and more importantly an obligation to address this issue. Both because it has moral implications and economic implications for our community,” Ketchum said.

Ketchum was able to propose the position in committee two weeks ago but it did not pass the first time. Last Tuesday, it passed after a 2-1 vote with councilman Ben Seidler voting against the action.

Thalman changed his vote from the first meeting following revisions made by Ketchum on the definition of success to the program, the Intelligencer reported. Ketchum said the city does not have a single data point about the status of homelessness in the community but this position will begin to accumulate data. Ketchum said from the data, the city can mark improvements and make educated decisions.

In the drafted job description it lists a role as “Maintains real-time data relating to Wheeling’s unsheltered population providing accurate reporting and statistical information as requested.”

Ketchum is hopeful the position can build bridges back to local service organizations from fragmented relationships.

“This is a role that is split between administrative duties, being able to collect data, understand the data and report on it,” Ketchum told MetroNews. “While also being a face to face with our community, homeless community service organizers to coordinate those services. To understand and illustrate what those pressure points are.

“We may have ideas but we are not experts. It’s irresponsible as a council to expect to make decisions that are informed from an expert perspective. Whether we move a camp or knowing what these folks need.”

Ketchum said the term “Functional Zero” in the title of the job a methodology that has been successful in reducing veteran homelessness. It’s a program inspired by Built for Zero methodologies, identified as a measure in which a community has solved or ended its problems with homelessness.

In the proposal of the position, it is given a 3-year sunset. Ketchum said the city approved putting a 3-year cap on it as the position relates to a specific program with goals.

The Intelligencer reported last week during meetings that Seidler expressed goals on how to solve the city’s homelessness issue but not with this position.

He during a meeting in early June, “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.

“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, who represents Ward 3, said the new position would give those local organizations a boost. She said she would not feel so strongly about the proposal if it offered the same services the local organizations have.

“While we have incredible organizations doing really powerful work, a lot of that work is fragmented. Without the city setting the tone, it will remain that way,” she said.

Ketchum said she sees momentum with this measure, saying that Mayor Glenn Elliott who is also on council, is excited to ‘set the tone.’

It will be sent to council for a future meeting, which the next one is scheduled for July 6. Ketchum said she struggles to see why someone would not be willing to support a measure with both a moral and economic argument.

“I wish the compassionate, moral argument is enough for people to understand why addressing homelessness is so critical. But I realize some folks are much more convinced by the economic argument,” Ketchum said.

“It’s really tough to pull developers and investors in our community, give them a tour of our beautiful neighborhoods when there are encampments lining our riverfront or in our parks.’

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