FAIRMONT – The perception of downtown Fairmont varies from person to person, but the presence of people hanging around town can be a turn off to some.
Members of the Fairmont Homeless Coalition are trying to change that perception.
“Everything I’ve read has not been toward reconciliation, but it’s always raising issues like conflicts without any resolutions being involved,” said D.D. Meighen, founder of the Fairmont Homeless Coalition. “I think we need to look at it on a broader perspective and that is a reconciliation perspective.”
Monday’s open meeting of the Coalition saw its largest attendance yet, according to Meighen. Several Fairmont residents sat in to listen and discussed homelessness in the city.
There was a discussion about establishing a work bank at the Friendship Fairmont room, which is tentatively scheduled to open this year on the fourth floor of the Marion County Courthouse Annex.
“A person could call in if they needed the gutters cleaned or maybe some carpentry work done, and these people would be available for services by checking into this work bank,” Meighen said. “The need is to really get a true, overall view of who are the homeless, who are the transients... the idea of a Point in Time count.”
Friendship Fairmont is an initiative by the Morgantown-based nonprofit Milan Puskar Health Right. According to Rochelle Satterfield, community engagement specialist for Health Right, Friendship Fairmont is a peer recovery center for those going through issues of homelessness or substance abuse.
“The state is starting to recognize that recovery is needed,” Satterfield said. “We are cutting edge in terms of providing recovery resources to the community so we are going to be... a recovery community center. We’re looking at state support here, which is a good thing.”
Friendship Fairmont has a mission of helping those who seek it. Satterfield said Health Right staff will maintain a professional standard of care when it comes to working with clientele.
“This isn’t just going to be a drop in center without rules, it’s going to be structured,” she said. “We’re going to have groups and those who can’t follow the rules won’t be welcome there.”
While Satterfield said the room does not have a specific opening date as of yet, she, Meighen and the other officials in attendance talked about the initiative is being perceived even before it opens.
Both agree they heard from others who believe that people experiencing homelessness are destructive to the community. Satterfield cited the success of the Health Right Friendship Room in Morgantown and how that can be duplicated here in The Friendly City.
“Let’s allow the people of Fairmont and Marion County for that matter to say ‘Yes, we know that, we support the idea that people can be helped in Fairmont,’” Meighen said.
Satterfield as well said that the perception is that people experiencing homelessness are not part of the community, but that helping them find work and even living arrangements can be beneficial to the community as a whole.
“Everyone deserves to be able to get help,” Satterfield said. “We’re voluntary; they’re not going there because they have to, they’re going there because they want something, they need something. Some of these people have nowhere to go and we want them to be able to have a safe place to go.”
Coalition guests also discussed efforts to bring people downtown through the distribution of a pledge, which invites people to dedicate their support to downtown Fairmont businesses over the next few months. Meighen said the perception could change over the months as Friendship Fairmont is put into action.
“Unless we say we’re going to do something positive, everything is going to be negative,” Meighen said.
The next meeting of the Fairmont Homeless Coalition will take place at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 28 at the First Presbyterian Church in Fairmont, and Meighen invites anyone interested to attend.