CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Harrison County has the second highest population of homelessness in the state, according to a Point in Time count by the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness. Politically and socially, the homeless population has been a source of contention.
At the center of the homeless controversies is the Clarksburg Mission. It’s an organization that provides several services to the homeless population in the downtown community of Glen Elk. Besides the Mission, several churches have provided emergency shelter when temperatures got below freezing, and a food pantry open once a week. The Mission is one of the few organizations that provides resources to the homeless population of Clarksburg on a daily basis.
“I believe that 10 years ago, we were housing 10 people. Last night we housed about 113. So that is huge,” said Desi Underwood, Ministry Coordinator at the Clarksburg Mission, “And it’s not an if-you-build-it-they-will-come situation, it’s supply-and-demand. If it wasn’t needed, it wouldn’t be needed, you know? We’re not expanding hoping to get more. That’s not the goal. The goal is expanding and reaching out and providing services as the need is presented to us.”
The Mission has an emergency shelter, veterans shelter, food services and sober living dorms and homes. And lately, they’ve been teaching life skills, like budget management, to their residents.
People can become homeless for a variety of reasons. A 2019 study by Prosperity Now found that 40% of households are one missed paycheck away from poverty. But infamously, addiction is a factor as well.
I experienced homelessness, which I didn’t recognize as homelessness many, many years ago in my early 20s. Living out of a trash bag, bouncing from house to house. I wasn’t on the streets. I wasn’t cold. So at the time, I didn’t see it for what it was.Desi Underwood, Ministry Coordinator at The Clarksburg Mission
“I don’t think I’ve come across anybody who, you take that addiction away, and there’s not a mental illness underneath, so they’re self-medicating,” said Underwood, “The addiction becomes so overwhelming in somebody’s life and I feel like as they do things, as they make bad decisions, they chip away at their self-esteem. They chip away at their self-love. And I feel like they get to a point that they don’t think they’re worth it.”
The Mission aims to build up self-esteem by adding love and support. Melissa Carter, a former resident and current employee at the Mission, said that those aspects were huge in her recovery.
“I was living in tents. I was—I mean, the worst of the worst,” said Carter, “I was comfortable in that aspect, but then I had to be comfortable with having so much love and support, like I can give love, but it was really hard for me to receive love and these people loved me and loved me and loved me no matter however I acted or things that I would say.”
Watch Melissa’s story
The Mission believes that breaking down the stigma of homelessness is a key component to giving people the help they need because the stigma makes it hard for people to ask for help.
“I hate the word backpackers,” said Carter, “These are people. These are people who are carrying their lives on their backs out here. That’s not a joke out here. I see a lot of ugly things being said about that. Like these are human beings. I don’t know, I just see some great struggles here.”
“I just feel like we shouldn’t give up on people. We shouldn’t look at people like that. When do we think to hold a hand out and just to say hey, how are you doing, are you ok today? That’s huge. That’s a big impact to just acknowledge somebody as a human being. Not a backpacker, you know, that’s a big deal.”
If you or someone you know is in need of help, call or email to be directed to help:
West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness Centralized Intake Hotline
1-833-722-2014 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Clarksburg Harrison Regional Housing Authority: (304) 623-3322
- Help4WV Helpline: 1-844-435-7495 Call, text, or Facebook message for help with addiction
- United Summit Center Crisis Hotline: 1-800-786-6513
- WV Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-352-6513