In a public hearing on House Bill 4753, which would ban homeless encampments within 1,000 feet of schools and daycare centers,18 people spoke against the bill and five supported the measure.
Maribeth Beller said the bill implies that people experiencing homelessness are dangerous and are pedophiles. She said many people who are homeless are veterans and trauma victims.
“What we do know is that many of the homeless have suffered from economic fluctuations, and what differs them from you and me is that we had help,” Beller said.
Among the many clergy speaking against the bill was Charleston pastor Bill Myers, who said he sees every day that caring for the homeless and children go hand in hand, without incident.
“On Friday, 20 children on the church steps were waiting to be picked up, and probably a half dozen homeless there as well,” Myers said. “There were no concerns, no issues.”
Of those for the bill, Charleston resident John Holland said there was alarm in finding that a neighborhood church was planning to put a homeless shelter 100 feet from a daycare center.
“Teachers are saying homeless people are already wandering in, they say they are finding needles on the playground,” Holland said. “Teachers told me they are having altercations with the homeless showing up on the day that no showers were available.”
The bill sponsor, House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, said there’s a blanket misconception, even among many in his own party, that restrictions for those who are unhoused aren’t compassionate. Skaff said the problem is statewide, not charleston centric, that there’s no jailing involved, and that this safeguard is not for your typical homeless person, and he said that we can do both.
“These are the unsheltered, mentally unstable and we need to help them,” Skaff said. “In addition we also owe it to keep our kids and schools safe, and if we can do both, why not do both?”
HB 4753 is on its second reading in the house.