For the past 30 years, Raleigh County Emergency Housing Center, formerly Pine Haven Homeless Shelter, has been located on South Eisenhower Drive in Beckley.
But faced with major repairs to the aging facility and obstacles preventing them from securing funding, the Raleigh County Community Action Association (RCCAA), which operates the shelter, began looking for a new location.
As the RCCAA searched for a site on Mount Tabor, much to the chagrin of local residents, state leaders stepped in, hoping for a solution that would eliminate the need for the refuge to relocate.
At a Raleigh County Commission meeting Tuesday morning, Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, told commissioners he was working with Bill Crouch, the cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), to get the RCCAA the funding it needs. for all major repairs.
Leah Deitz-Jackson, marketing and development specialist for the RCCAA, said the shelter’s most urgent need is a new boiler, which is expected to cost around $355,000. Other less immediate repairs are expected to cost $1.2 million, including a new roof and windows and the addition of a sprinkler system.
Citing text messages he received this week from Crouch, Steele said DHHR was prepared to commit the $355,000 needed to cover the cost of initial emergency repairs.
Steele said Crouch was unable to immediately commit funds for other necessary repairs, but Crouch was collecting more data to see if that was a possibility.
The Register-Herald contacted DHHR for further comment and was told that Crouch was “still working on this issue”.
DHHR also provided a letter Crouch sent to Steele dated Monday, which indicated that DHHR was in discussions with RCCAA regarding their needs and that Crouch had asked his assistant secretary to visit the facility this week.
“While we have not yet made a decision on how to move forward, we are committed to maintaining the RCCAA in its current location in the most cost effective manner possible,” Crouch wrote in the letter.
The letter also said that DHHR was “investigating various options regarding the sale or extended lease of the property.”
Deitz-Jackson said the Crouch site visit mentioned in the letter took place on Tuesday.
She added that while funding for the repairs is appreciated and needed, the RCCAA’s top priority is to acquire ownership of the building or secure a long-term lease from the WV DHHR.
The property and the building belong to the WV DHHR. Deitz-Jackson said the RCCAA would have already sought other sources of funding, including federal grants, but those sources would not provide funds for building repairs if the organization did not own the building or if she had a long-term lease.
She added that several former executive directors of the RCCAA tried for more than a decade to obtain the deed or a long-term lease from the state, but without success.
“It’s been one of our goals to figure this out as an organization for a very long time,” Deitz-Jackson said. “We never really made progress and at this point it became a critical issue. We just can’t invest in it anymore without some kind of security. And that’s kind of out of our hands at this point because the things that need to be dealt with are more important than what we can do.
She added that the current RCCAA Executive Director, Crystal Alonso, had been in talks with DHHR on the same issue since earlier this year.
Steele said he fully supports the RCCAA’s desire to own the property and would help as much as he can to achieve this.
Stelee said he only recently became involved in the process after learning of RCAA’s intentions to purchase property owned by Beckley Conference Freewill Baptist Churches in Mount Tabor at 132 Faith Drive.
Steele, who lives in Mount Tabor, said his wife was approached by a neighbor on Sunday and asked to sign a petition saying the community did not want the shelter moving to the area.
The issue was scheduled to be discussed before the Raleigh County Zoning Appeals Board on Tuesday evening, but was removed from the agenda on Monday after the RCCAA contacted the county and withdrew its application for a conditional use permit for shelter.
Deitz-Jackson explained that the reason the RCCAA withdrew its application to the county was because of the assessment.
“We were unable to proceed with the hearing on the Faith Drive contract because the appraisal did not reach the contract price and our offer on this property was conditional on the appraisal matching the price. of the contract,” she said.
Steele said he got involved not only to address the concerns of his neighbors who were concerned about building the shelter in their community, but also because he believed the shelter could do the most well in its current location.
“Its current location places it really strategically,” Steele said. “The workforce is within walking distance of this on Gray Flats Road, so employment services, educational services, mental health and addiction treatment services are right there at FMRS (Health Systems Inc. ) and other clinics that are very close to this. There is public transport, and there are no public transport stops on Mt Tabor Road.
Deitz-Jackson said it was also the RCCAA’s desire to stay where it is.
“We have 30 years of notoriety at this place, which means that for a very long time people have known that they can enter the street, they know where we are, it is accessible downtown,” he said. she declared. “So anything we can do to stay at this facility, I think, improves the community. It’s important to us; we didn’t necessarily want to leave.
She said she also believed the increased public attention helped their case.
“I really think the public awareness of this and the public’s willingness to speak out has probably brought attention to this issue,” Deitz-Jackson said. “We talked about it (at DHHR), and I’m not sure they understood the urgency or the seriousness with which we had to make a decision. So I think raising public awareness of the issue certainly could have brought it more to their attention.
No matter where they are, Deitz-Jackson said the services they provide are crucial to the county. She said they typically serve between 100 and 150 people a year at the emergency shelter, saying some may need their services for a few months and others just a few weeks.
“People might hear the number 100 or 150 and think that’s not a lot, but it’s certainly a significant number for an area our size,” she said. “And these people have nowhere to go. Where are they going to go if they can’t come to us? These people will literally end up on the street if they don’t have us to come to.