Homelessness is one of the many by-products of the drug epidemic West Virginia is facing.
No area is immune from the effects, including Ravenswood, which has seen enough of an uptick in unauthorized encampments to address the issue in city code, Mayor Josh Miller said. During a recent meeting, Ravenswood City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance regulating unauthorized encampments.
“Unfortunately, around West Virginia and around the country, we have folks who are displaced. I think the main reason for that in this area is related to substance abuse. It’s an unfortunate situation,” Miller said.
Miller noted an unfortunate lack of emergency resources for people who are looking for help.
“We need more beds, long-term care facilities so people can change their environments and move on with their lives when they get clean. We’re not going to solve that at the municipal level. It’s going to take the private sector, the federal government, all the way down to local government, to solve this,” Miller said.
Miller said the new ordinance establishes a free permit to allow camping by permission of the city. Anyone who does not have such a permit would be asked to leave city property, he said.
The city will not be issuing permits to individuals to allow itinerate camping, Miller said. Requiring a permit for camping would give the city authority to evict anyone who doesn't have one. It is a way to control unauthorized encampments, not a way to permit them, Miller said.
People who have legitimate reasons to camp, such as scouts staying overnight at Riverfront Park during events, can pick up a free permit, Miller said. Those who do not have a legitimate reason to camp will not be issued a permit, and, if they are found camping on city property without a permit, they will be evicted.
"Someone catfishing at the park at night is not going to be a problem. A tent that's there for two or three days would be. People who are camping without a legitimate reason aren't going to get a permit, and if they request one, it won't be issued. It's as simple as that," Miller said.
In other business:
• The city will continue its partnership with Ravenswood High School through a program that places student interns in the workplace. Last year, Red Devil football standout Luke Jackson worked for the city, completing many projects and making improvements to the city’s recreational facilities.
This year, Devilette softballer Rylynn Tabor is interning with the city.
Miller said he is pleased the city can offer an opportunity for students to gain real-world experience.
“We need to treat these young men and women with respect and have some trust in them to do things for our community. I think sometimes they feel left out, and I don’t want them to feel that way,” he said.
• Council passed the first reading amending the city’s public nuisance ordinance.
This particular amendment pertained to junked vehicles on residential property, Miller said.
“You won’t be allowed to have an unregistered junk car in your yard,” Miller said.
The city will be addressing its public nuisance ordinance in more detail now that Ravenswood has been accepted into the home rule program.
Home Rule allows municipalities to circumvent certain state laws with approval from the Home Rule Board. The program does not allow circumvention of criminal law.
“This doesn’t give us wholesale privilege to break state law. We can’t do whatever we want,” Miller said. “Everything we do has to be approved by the Home Rule Board.”
One of the areas Home Rule addresses is code enforcement. Cities can draft sharper code enforcement regulations and have more power to enforce them through on-site citations for violations and municipal court. This is a particular interest to Ravenswood since there are so many properties that are not being cared for.
“This isn’t about evicting somebody or tearing down their house, though some people like to make it out that way,” Miller said. “We’re talking about properties that are just sitting there with out-of-state owners that aren’t taking care of their property.”
These situations affect the property value of neighboring homes, and create dangerous environments that attract all kinds of hazards, from mosquitos to crime and accidents, Miller said.
“We put liens on these properties and they never get paid at the end of the day. This just gives us as many options as possible to take on abandoned and dilapidated properties,” Miller said. “I don’t believe in messing with people’s property, but these are public nuisances that affect the people around them.”