Charleston establishes procedures for dismantling homeless camps

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
The area known as “Tent City” used to sit along the banks of the Elk River, near the Spring Street Bridge in Charleston.

Nearly a year after Mayor Danny Jones ordered the dismantling of Charleston’s homeless encampment known as “Tent City,” City Council passed a resolution Monday that establishes procedures on handling similar incidents in the future.

The resolution will increase the city’s annual contribution to Prestera Center from $48,000 to $75,000, which will go toward hiring two full-time outreach workers who will act as liaisons between law enforcement, homeless individuals and the business community.

Under the new resolution, the city will provide at least 14 days’ written notice of intent to those staying at a homeless encampment if it’s on public property.

Within 48 hours of sending out notice, the city also will provide notice to groups that assist the homeless, such as Prestera, Covenant House and Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center.

If an encampment exists on private property and the property owner requests assistance from the city to remove it, the city will contact homeless services providers, including outreach workers, at least 24 hours prior to taking action.

“[The] city will require confirmation that the encampment has received ... notice of the closing, and that individuals in the encampment have been offered shelter or other emergency services,” the resolution says.

Prestera currently has one caseworker who assists the homeless in four different counties, including Kanawha.

City Attorney Paul Ellis explained Monday during Council’s Finance Committee meeting that those caseworkers create a “buffer” between police and the homeless.

“Their job is to go in, make contact, develop rapport [and] find those folks services with the goal of getting them permanent housing,” Ellis said.

Sgt. Paul Perdue, who heads the public services unit for Charleston Police Department, voiced his support of the resolution.

“We can’t solve everything by arrests, that’s the big thing,” Perdue said. “And [Prestera] getting more access to get out there and provide services is what we need.”

The city already provided $48,000 to Prestera each year for a different program that is no longer active, City Manager David Molgaard said.

Ellis said the new resolution came out of several discussions between homelessness providers, law enforcement, council members and community members.

“We all came up with this as the best solution to help businesses, help the community and help the homeless in the city,” Ellis said.

The outreach workers will provide services such as working to facilitate conflict resolution between the homeless and visitors, citizens and businesses around the city and helping find alternative housing and other social services.

The city also is looking into a new site for the Charleston EDGE project, which focuses on attracting young talent to the city and providing them with affordable downtown housing.

After tentative plans for the project on an empty lot at the corner of Capitol and Donnally streets fell through, the city looked at 170-178 Summers St. — the former home of B&B Loans, just off Brawley Walkway and across from Slack Plaza.

The Charleston Urban Renewal Authority owns the building. Wheeling-based McKinley Properties backed out of a deal with CURA to buy the building earlier this year.

Council approved a resolution for the city to hire ZMM Architects and Engineers in the amount of $137,800 for architectural design development services. Funding for the project is contingent on cost share for services by CURA and the city, the resolution says.

If the project materializes, Molgaard said the top two floors of the building would be redeveloped into 12 one-bedroom apartments.

It also would include building a partial fourth floor on top of the building, which would contain a deck, meeting and office spaces and other amenities for residents.

“[This is] in a very strategic location for a catalytic project. We need to bring that corner to life, in light of everything we’re doing with Brawley Walkway and anticipated plans for Slack Plaza,” Molgaard said. “If we make it attractive for visitors, we make it attractive for residents.”

Also on Monday, Council voted to:

n Approve a bill to amend the city’s Municipal Code regarding bagged parking meters. If the city consents to temporarily bagging a parking meter due to construction or other activity in the future, the rental fee for that meter will be increased from $5 to $15 per day.

n Authorize a sub-award recipient agreement with Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area for funds from the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy in the amount of $149,000 to be awarded to the Metro Drug Enforcement Network Team.

n Authorize an agreement with Zuercher Technologies LLC. in the amount of $423,230 for a software license and service agreement for the Charleston Police Department.

Reach Elaina Sauber at

elaina.sauber@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-3051 or follow

@ElainaSauber on Twitter.

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