In a move to combat a spike in unsafe buildings, homelessness, and fires the mayor of Huntington has decided to redirect $1.5 million in ARPA funding from broadband expansion to address urgent issues related to homelessness and substandard housing. According to Mayor Steve Williams, the decision was made in response to a recent surge in fires in abandoned buildings and a corresponding rise in unsafe structures that have increased by more than 300%.
As part of the new plan, the city is doubling its demolition budget to address the growing problem of unsafe buildings, while also committing a half-million dollars to the City Mission for assistance with their “low barrier homeless shelter.” The city’s previous budget amount of $1.2 million for demolition is double the amount of the previous budget year.
The Mission has been using cots in the chapel for some time. the mayor noted the use of cots has prevented the chapel from being used as a chapel. A “low barrier homeless shelter” essentially means the requirements to enter the shelter are limited or minimal. With a focus on “harm reduction”, low barrier shelters reduce the requirements placed on the people who wish to stay there.
Much different than the current Huntington City Mission requirements guests in a “low barrier homeless shelter” are typically allowed to stay while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and even to continue to engage in street activity or substance abuse. There is no requirement that they work toward sobriety or recovery. The philosophy behind low-barrier shelters centers on “harm reduction” – minimizing the risks and consequences of certain behaviors, rather than prohibiting the behavior itself. The focus is survival – keeping people alive, especially in inclement weather and hazardous air conditions.
“When there is money that is sitting, that has been sitting there a little while that hasn’t been spent, we’ve got to make sure that it is active” Steve Williams
The mayor noted Huntington City Mission has recently acquired property adjacent to their current location and is raising money for the development of the low-barrier shelter.