June Leffler Published

Justice On Mayor's Homeless Plan: 'Do We Want to Replicate Charleston?'


The mayor of Charleston made a big ask of state lawmakers and the governor this week.

Mayor Amy Goodwin requested they convene a special session to tackle issues around addiction, homelessness and mental health.

Goodwin and her staff put forward a platform to address a crisis happening in West Virginia’s urban communities. Her city has mental health workers and a quick response team to alleviate the desperation of those living on the streets. But Goodwin said the state needs to help.

“All cities in West Virginia are being asked to carry the burden of failing federal and state systems,” she said.

Goodwin said larger cities can act as a hub of resources for the state’s most vulnerable people.

“I certainly don’t blame any other city for sending folks who need help off to bigger cities … But I think from a state perspective, that should be taken into consideration,” Goodwin said. “Charleston, Huntington, Bluefeild, Beckley cannot sustain all of the crisis that we have for the entire area of Southern West Virginia.”

She addressed this request to the leaders of the state House and Senate, and Gov. Jim Justice. The governor responded to Goodwin’s request Thursday, saying she should stay in her lane.

“If Amy Goodwin wants to do something, why doesn’t she do something in Charleston,” Justice said.

He called the request political “grandstanding” and questioned why the state would want to follow her city’s lead.

“Do we want to replicate Charleston all across the state of West Virginia? Are you kidding me?” Justice said. “Why are we having to walk down the streets and see tragedy all over the place?”

Goodwin released a statement in response. She said Justice’s comments were “hateful” and “sexist”. She didn’t detail what she found to be sexist.

She ended her statement with continued support for the issues she initially presented.

Goodwin said her CARE office shaped the seven-prong agenda. The CARE office is made up of mental health and social workers who work directly with people living on the streets or struggling with addiction. They work separately but in conjunction with EMS and city police.

“This isn’t something that we just created here in City Hall. This is from countless meetings with those who are experiencing substance use mental health issues, and also local providers, who work and deal with folks experiencing these challenges,” Goodwin said.

Even if a special session isn’t called, Goodwin says the platform can be presented in the regular legislative session next year.

Goodwin is requesting the following measures.

-Establish a state council on behavioral health modeled after one in Georgia. Mental health providers and city and state officials could serve on that. It would be tasked with reviewing all state agencies likely to intercept people with mental health issues. That includes emergency services, the criminal justice system and behavioral health facilities.

-Create a state law to demand health insurers pay for more mental and behavioral health care.

-Establish and fund 25 additional mental health courts.

-Pilot a program that would pay the tuition costs for West Virignians studying to be a mental health practitioner.

-Establish a pilot program to offer mental telehealth services for students at schools and public libraries.

– Expand funding for Quick Response Teams across the state. These small agencies often work at the city and county levels to work directly with those with insecure housing or an addiction. One way they reach these clients, she said, is by following up with those who encounter EMS or local police.

-Create crisis call lines tied to locally based mental health teams.

Goodwin acknowledges that when cities and states make laws and regulations targeting people with addictions or insecure housing, they can take a compassionate or restrictive approach.

“We have to be strong, but we have to be compassionate,” she said. “I’m not sure that you can be one or the other. You must be both.”