MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – During this week’s City Council meeting’s public comment section, citizens expressed their frustration about what many described as harassment against a population of homeless individuals living at a camp in town.

There are 10-12 tents in the camp, which is located on a piece of private property owned by an unnamed individual who gave his permission for the camp to be there. This is according to Councilman Zackery Cruze who represents the City’s Third Ward. Cruze said a lot of division in the community about the camp stems from misinformation.

“The information that’s going around is that this is a giant trash pile overrun with needles and feces, but that’s not the case,” Cruze said. “It’s actually a relatively small encampment , about 10-12 tents. I’ve been down there every day for the past couple of days and it couldn’t be a nicer group of folks.”

The living situation of the camp residents
Courtesy of: Zackery Cruze

People who live in the camp have hit hard times, are struggling and just need a place to call home, Cruze said. Instead, these unsheltered individuals are being met with threats of violence from armed individuals and unwarranted complaints to the City of Morgantown about their presence, according to Cruze.

The camp can’t even be seen from the road, Cruze said while reiterating the cleanliness of the site. He added that there is even a small cooking area consisting of a fire ring that is well in regulation because it is 10 feet away from everything else. And that they have even had three tons of gravel delivered to stabilize the high traffic pathway that was once very muddy.

The muddy path
Courtesy of: Zackery Cruze

Cruze said he talked to the landowner who has been impressed with how well kept the campsite is, so he doesn’t understand why there is so much misinformation spreading around. That is why he feels that it is important to get as much information out to the public as possible about a topic he cares deeply about.

I have an issue with the stigmatization of the unsheltered population and how they’re just being ran all over town. Being on city council for this year, I have heard continuous complaints when people who were dealing with homelessness were visible downtown. We got complaints that you could see people downtown when they were at Friendship House, on the back porch. And now they’re pushed all the way to a wooded section that you can’t see from the road and there are still complaints and I’m just not sure where some individuals want people to go.

Zackery Cruze – City Councilman

The councilman said it seems like no matter what unsheltered individuals do there is a backlash against it. Unfortunately, a majority of West Virginians are one paycheck away from being homeless, so people should be more understanding of those living at the camp, he said.

Cruze said when people look at him now they see a man with a degree who is gainfully employed and an elected official, but he wasn’t always that way. He said there was a time when he was homeless, walking down the highway and someone with compassion and kindness helped him instead of chasing him away.

That act of kindness got him back on his feet and to the place he is today, showing he is proof of what kindness toward unsheltered people can lead to.

“Times are really hard right now,” Cruze said. “We’re seeing, I mean, with the COVID crisis we’re seeing huge income inequality issues. In other states where the courts have opened back up, we’re essentially seeing flocks for eviction proceedings, times are hard. Mental health is struggling right now in Americans in general and kindness goes a long way. All it really takes is shifting that mindset toward kindness and we can really change a lot of things in our community. The big thing is the choice has to be there, people have to want to show kindness in order for it to happen.”

In an effort to promote compassion for the individuals at the campsite, a group of nonprofits created the video below to show the public the kind of people who live there are.