Local shelter’s executive director doubts potential camping ban’s effectiveness

WTAP gets the perspective of a local shelter's executive director on legislation that could ban public camping.
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 1:01 AM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - Parkersburg recently passed the first reading of an ordinance that would ban camping on public grounds.

Latrobe Street Mission’s Executive Director Jim Sims said, while he understands that the legislation is trying to prevent issues with encampments, he doesn’t think it will be effective.

“Who’s going to police these people? Just because they’re in an encampment, you might not know where they’re at,” Sims said.

He believes a ban on public camping will push homeless people either into more rural areas outside of Parkersburg or to more hidden pockets of Parkersburg.

Sims isn’t worried about his shelter becoming overwhelmed.

“Even with that legislation, they’re not going to come here because they’re on the street because they want to be,” he said.

Sims points to three main reasons he sees homeless people choosing the outdoors over shelters.

One is they don’t want to follow the rules. Another is they want to keep their pet.

“They’re not giving up their dog. I don’t know that I could. You know, if you’re truly an animal lover, it becomes part of the family,” Sims explained.

He said that pets aren’t something the shelter is equipped to handle.

Another reason is they don’t meet his shelter’s criteria. Sims explained that Latrobe Street Mission doesn’t let in people with sexual or domestic offenses.

“..., because I have women and children here who I have to protect,” he said.

Overall, Sims views the legislation as ineffective because he doesn’t see it as the answer to the issue.

The solution in his eyes is affordable housing.

“A lot of people get public assistance - they get a HUD voucher - but still there’s not enough affordable housing for them to be able to rent,” he said.

When we spoke to Council Member J.R. Carpenter, who led the push for the ban, he told us that he sees the legislation as a preventative measure. He doesn’t see public encampments as a major issue in Parkersburg right now.

For more context about the legislation, click the link below.

Parkersburg City Council votes on legislation banning camping in public spaces (wtap.com)

Sims encourages people to come to the shelter if they need help.

Latrobe Street Mission can help you find employment and get you clothing, food stamps, an ID, a Medicaid card, etc.