WHEELING – A new position polarizing the City of Wheeling’s payroll has been filled, and work to help address the city’s growing problem of homelessness is expected to begin later this month.
City council members created the Function Zero homeless liaison post in July. The measure was narrowly passed with a 4-3 vote. Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron announced on Tuesday afternoon that he had nominated a candidate for the new post.
“The newly created homeless liaison position has been filled,” Herron said at Tuesday’s Wheeling city council meeting. “Amanda White, who comes to us from The Health Plan has been appointed to this position, and she will take up her duties on September 20.”
After no clear consensus on the homeless liaison position was reached among city leaders earlier this summer, a proposed compromise was to make the position temporary at first. The new position “will end” in three years, and members of the next cycle of city council will have to decide whether or not to keep this full-time position on the city’s books.
Officials have indicated that success will likely determine whether the post will continue or become permanent. For some city council members, this means action must be taken to reduce or eliminate the number of people living in tents in camps across the city.
Homeless settlements have been a regular sight in the city in recent years. Tent towns have sprung up along Wheeling Creek and under city bridges. Wheeling officials noted that this is a complex issue that will likely need to involve coordination between a number of local agencies working with the local homeless community.
On Tuesday, Herron said White’s salary would be $ 48,000 and that he would be paid using the Community Development Block Grant funds through the US Housing and Urban Development.
Wheeling’s homeless plight and its struggles to find a workable solution have put the city in the spotlight statewide and even nationally for the past year or so. Time Magazine featured a report and photo exhibit on the continuing crisis in Wheeling, and the American Civil Liberties Union took legal action against the city last year after police launched a plan to suppress the state-owned camps that had become the source of a flood of criminal complaints.
In July, the homeless liaison post was created by a slim majority of council members supporting the legislation. Mayor Glenn Elliott, Deputy Mayor Chad Thalman and City Councilor Ty Thorngate supported the measure, which was introduced by the council’s health and recreation committee and chaired by the committee chair, City Councilor Rosemary Ketchum , who also voted in favor of the creation of the new post.
Councilors Ben Seidler, Jerry Sklavounakis and Dave Palmer voted against the creation of Function Zero Homeless Liaison.
Ketchum noted that other cities across the country have successfully taken similar positions to work in tandem with existing community services. Ketchum said it was a first step towards “improving relationships, building trust and ultimately creating a united front to dramatically reduce homelessness in Wheeling.”