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Restrictions are placed on W.Va. center that helps homeless

November 15, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Martinsburg zoning board placed new restrictions on a center on Winchester Avenue that offers services to homeless people after local residents complained about transient people loitering on their property and acting in a threatening manner, beer cans lying around in the neighborhood and people "fornicating" behind houses.

Residents said citizens are afraid of some people who congregate in the downtown area and the Winchester Avenue area is "peppered with For Sale signs" as families grow increasingly wary about living in the Winchester Avenue area.

Roughly 50 people gathered Tuesday night inside the Martinsburg City Council Chambers to hear discussions about the center.

Lane McIntosh, a member of the Martinsburg Board of Zoning Appeals, the body that allowed the Shalom Resource Center to operate at 412 Winchester Ave., said he felt "duped" over the way the center has developed.

McIntosh said it was his understanding that the Shalom Resource Center was only designed to be a place where people could come to get advice on handling personal problems or picking up brochures on such issues.

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In an attempt to control the problems residents complained about, board of zoning appeals members unanimously agreed that the Shalom Resource Center should halt the serving of meals to clients and allowing clients to take showers or wash their clothes at the center. Also, the board banned any loitering at the center and required that the center only operate as an information and referral service.

Any violations would put the center at risk of losing its permission to operate, the board ruled.

The Shalom Resource Center opened about a year ago to help people with a variety of problems, including homelessness and unemployment, officials said.

Edward Grove, who has worked to establish the center, said the facility helps to bring stability to people's lives and he and others recounted success stories, including one about a local homeless woman who was given help to return to her home in Germany.

Grove, pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church on West Martin Street, said there have been mistakes, such as the problem of men waiting in line for the center to open.

That problem was corrected by changing the operating times of the center, Grove said.

Carl Wright, who lives on Winchester Avenue, complained that people have been lounging in his backyard and along a wall on his property. Wright said he thinks the center invites transients into the community and that there have been instances of people talking loudly to imaginary people and threatening residents.

People have also been having sex behind homes, Wright said.

Wright's wife said she has 70 photographs of people loitering in the area.

Doug Snowden complained about people begging for cigarettes in the downtown area and said businesses fail in the area because of such behavior.

"The Wrights are 100 percent right in what they are saying," Snowden said.

Grove said some clients are harder to deal with than others and sometimes the help they need is long-term.

Grove said after the board's vote that board members do not understand the homeless problem in downtown Martinsburg.

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