Dunbar hosts public forum on homelessness

DUNBAR, W.Va. — Around 150 people took part in a public forum Tuesday in Dunbar regarding the problems associated with homelessness.

Residents voiced concerns about issues such as stolen property, public nuisance and disrespect for private property rights.

The event took place at the Dunbar Recreation Center.

“People can no longer leave their belongings outside the way they did 20 years ago,” Dunbar Mayor Bill Cunningham said. “People are starting to see their freedom of life starting to erode. You have to secure yourself inside your home, and you can’t just enjoy your property.”

Residents voiced concerns to the Dunbar City Council at its Sept. 3 meeting, adding they would reach out to state lawmakers about a possible solution. The city instead invited their state representatives to the forum to hear concerns.

“Why start to barrage them with calls? Why not invite them to our community and sit down as a community and talk to them instead of just a bunch of random phone calls?” Cunningham said.

State Sens. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, and Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha; and Delegates Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha; Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha; Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha; and Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, attended the forum.

Cunningham said he wants legislators to make it a crime to break into an abandoned structure as well as dedicate additional financial resources for treatment services; the mayor noted the settlements from opioid lawsuits should be dedicated to treatment.

“Make it a mandatory, court-order, two-year sentence for people who demonstrate that they are drug-addicted through multiple arrests or Narcan treatment or something of that nature,” he said.

The city will continue to arrest people in criminal situations, yet Cunningham said that is not enough

“Until we get some relief to get these people treatment, they’re going to go to jail, come back out and be right in that same cycle that they’re in,” he said.