By Tim Bishop
WHEELING—Legislators from throughout the state gathered June 19 for a public forum focusing on affordable housing and the effect of poverty on children. The forum was organized by Catholic Charities West Virginia (CCWVa) and the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless and was held at the West Virginia Catholic Heritage Center. Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, head of the state legislature’s Select Committee on Children, led the forum.
Patti Phillips, director of Development and Marketing for CCWVa, said the forum was an opportunity for lawmakers to hear directly from the people they serve. “It is important,” she said, “for our elected officials to hear first-hand from not only the providers who are serving people facing housing issues, but also the individuals that are being affected by the skyrocketing rent cost due to the natural gas industry, people facing foreclosure and people facing homelessness.”
Mark Sliter-Hays, executive director of CCWVa, said the forum was held to educate lawmakers and raise awareness not only for the homeless, but also for those workers living paycheck to paycheck who cannot afford the rising cost of rent. He said the lawmakers were presented with testimonials by residents who had received help from local programs as well as from those people who could not afford housing and were forced to live on the streets.
Representatives from local social service agencies were also on-hand. They said that the cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment in the Wheeling area often exceeds $1,200, making it impossible for local residents to afford.
Sliter-Hays said that children are affected most by homelessness, which, he said, leads to a myriad of other issues including malnutrition, health and hygiene issues.
Sliter-Hays said the committee will continue to travel around the state to hold meetings on affordable housing as well as child poverty. The committee will then use what they have learned at those meetings to direct legislation during the next legislative session. “Hearing from those people who are really struggling to find affordable housing has a greater impact,” he said. “Those are the people to whom these legislators want to speak.”
Sliter-Hays said the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center on 18th Street in Wheeling offers assistance to those struggling to find affordable housing. He said the center offers case management services designed to work with the family to both find affordable housing as well as teaching money management and utility assistance.