The City of Wheeling has taken bold steps in addressing the needs of the homeless. To address this growing and systemic problem, the City of Wheeling appointed a Homeless Liaison, Melissa Adams, to learn from and work with a number of nonprofits serving the homeless, law enforcement, health and mental health experts, and other concerned parties to devise and implement a strategic plan and work collaboratively to end homelessness in our community.
The Life Hub was created as a 501c3 nonprofit organization in October 2022, as a program of the Wheeling Housing Authority partnering with the City of Wheeling. The goal of the Life Hub is to acquire and operate a spacious shelter year-round for homeless adults and families and their pets. The program will also provide a variety of services under one roof to strategically and compassionately to help the homeless successfully and efficiently navigate through a variety of systems that include housing, employment, education, health, and mental health to ensure a rapid response to basic emergent needs.
Other communities have adopted and implemented this model with exciting success. Our neighbors in Pittsburgh have established many partnerships throughout Allegheny County to open Second Avenue Commons, a model for the City of Wheeling/Ohio County Project. The key is collaboration and cooperation with many community resources, medical resources, financial stakeholders, and of course, city and county governments. In fact, the federal government recognizes this and has launched a federal response to reduce homelessness by 25% by the year 2025 across the nation. The good news is that the local response is right on target and hits all the pillars that the federal government is addressing in their plan. Wheeling is ahead in the planning process. Funding will soon become available as well as technical support for our local project from the federal level, state level, and private foundations.
During the Winter of 2023, Catholic Charities has offered the LIFE HUB the use of a large area at their Main Street office location. This space welcomes 35-40 individuals a night this winter season. The LIFE HUB has stepped in to manage the temporary winter shelter and to fund it. It is operating solely on individual and local private foundation financial and in-kind support. This is a testimonial to the need and the support throughout our community for a cohesive plan to end homelessness.
Local social service agencies have identified up to 250 homeless individuals currently living in the Wheeling area. This also includes women living in domestic abuse shelters, individuals living in abandoned buildings, and on couches of friends and family. Over the last 12 years, 1,500 individuals (unduplicated) have been served in the Winter Freeze Shelter alone.
It is time to begin the formal planning of a low-barrier shelter for homeless men, women, and families within the City of Wheeling that operates 24/7/365. Immediate attention needs given to the identification of the building for the shelter and the services. There are currently a few options within the City of Wheeling. The LIFE HUB has placed an offer on one of the viable options located in a highly distressed downtown area, per the federal government making it eligible for historical and new market tax credits.
Time is of the essence to begin collaborative meetings with all the stakeholders including the City of Wheeling and Ohio County. The project has real potential for funding and to even become a small city pilot project federally and within the state of West Virginia.