Despite admonishments from the mayor to treat each other with respect, a discussion about a homeless shelter at the Delbarton City Council Monday ended after an hour in a shouting match with little being accomplished.
“We all live in the same community and we need to respect one another,” said Mayor Elmer Ray Spence as he opened the floor to Belinda Harness to speak about the Shepherd’s Way homeless facility located in the former Delbarton Inn.
The shelter has been the topic of much discussion at previous council meetings, talk between residents and repeated posts on social media. Many people have complained about the number of persons coming in and out of the shelter, strangers roaming the streets at all hours of the day and night and accusations of drug use and trafficking
Harness began by giving a brief history of the shelter and said it was put in place by a group of private individuals with and board of directors. She said the shelter is not part of the Housing Authority of Mingo County and does not receive federal funding.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about the shelter,” Harness said. “We are trying to help people find hope. There are a lot of people that hit hard times and need help. We help them find a way to get them back on their feet.
“We are not saying that all the people in the homeless shelter are innocent; they’re not,” Harness continued. “Anytime you are dealing with people that are homeless and have found themselves in a situation where they are on the bottom because of drugs and things like that does not mean they are any less of a person and it doesn’t mean we’re supposed to cast stones at them.”
Harness said the shelter does not have a budget that allows permanent staff or security at the facility. However, she said, after receiving recent complaints, the people who take care of the facility have been monitoring it more closely. She said that many of the problems that have been discussed are created by people that do not live at the shelter.
“We try to find solutions instead of being part of the problem,” she said. “One of the major problems we have identified in the last couple of weeks is that non-residents are trying to come to the facility. They cause trouble and they have been told they cannot be there. We have signs all over the place. Some of the residents try as much as they can to run them off but the residents are not police and cannot force other people out.”
Harness said that she believes that enforcement of the town’s curfew would solve many of the town’s issues. However, Spence told her that a curfew cannot be enforced against adults.
“You need security at your precious shelter,” Councilwoman Rachel Chambers-Bowen told Harness. “The police cannot babysit your shelter.”
Several people at the meeting pressed the issue claiming that people causing trouble in town come from both the homeless shelter and the Helena Apartments, which is a part of the Housing Authority. One resident said someone from the apartments was on his property causing trouble and he held rocks in his hands until the police arrived.
Chambers-Bowen, who lives directly up the hill from the shelter, continued that people from both facilities are harassing townspeople throughout the night. While Harness said she and her sisters have personally monitored the situation, Chambers-Bowen told her the issues begin as soon as they leave.
Councilman Albert Totten, Harness’ father, said the reason there were so many problem with strangers in town was because of the public scrutiny the town has been given.
“We advertise it on the internet every day,” he said. “If were a drug dealer somewhere and saw over and over that Delbarton has problems with drugs, I would come here too. We need to quit advertising the bad stuff. It is like a magnet.”
Delbarton Police Chief Earl Spence and Patrolman John Hunt told Harness they are repeatedly called to both facilities and cannot get any assistance from the Housing Authority. When Harness asked if they had reports about people at the facilities, Hunt held up a one-inch three-ring binder filled with documents.
Harness asked that the police share those documents with her. She said if the Housing Authority staff does not have proper documentation, she could not do anything about people causing trouble. It was finally agreed that the Housing Authority would create a reporting form that would include the necessary items it needs to document issues and those reports would either be delivered to or faxed to the Housing Authority by the next business day.
“Everything everybody has been saying about your homeless shelter is true. Your homeless shelter over the last year had calmed down for a while,” Councilman Robert Hunt Jr. told Harness. “But for the last two months, for some reason, I can tell a difference when I leave at night for work. You’re acknowledging that there is a problem and I’m glad to hear you say that. That way we can all move forward. We need to work together.”
As the discussion neared its end, a shouting match erupted. Spence had to call for order repeatedly and knocked on the table several times trying to get everyone’s attention.
“Let’s not get personal here,” he admonished those in attendance.
“It is personal,” Chambers-Bowen said. “It is personal when you can’t sleep at night.”
A Delbarton resident, who works at the Housing Authority and lives in the Helena Apartments, raised her hand and said, “I find it very offensive when your councilwoman puts on Facebook that those human beings are cockroaches.”
“That is wrong,” Chambers-Bowen responded. “I said they roam around like cockroaches. Get it right. You think you have the right to call me a big mouth.”
“You are,” the woman replied.
Tempers flared even more as Chambers-Bowen said, “As one woman to another, meet me outside and I’ll show you.”
Spence quickly silenced Chambers-Bowen, “That’s enough of that.” He then brought the discussion to an abrupt end, thanking the resident for coming to the meeting and proceeding with the rest of the council meeting.