CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – The mayor of West Virginia’s capital city has ordered a few dozen homeless people to leave a makeshift tent city along a Charleston riverbank.
Mayor Danny Jones says property owner Waste Management had asked for the removal of up to 30 people who were camped out along the Elk River. Media outlets report police and city workers removed them on Tuesday.
Outreach specialist George Lively of social services agency Prestera Center says they were taken to area homeless shelters or to stay with friends.
Jones says there were plenty of shelters to provide them places to sleep.
“I understand, they want to camp out and live like a commune,” he said. “That’s their business. They just can’t do it there.”
Residents earlier this week donated blankets, sleeping bags, coats and propane heaters to homeless people at the location as temperatures dipped into the single digits.
Glasgow United Methodist Church Pastor Darick Biondi said dismantling the encampment was “the wrong decision.
“Maybe it did need to be resolved eventually, but to shut it down on the coldest day of the year …,” Biondi said.
Jones, who met with Waste Management officials earlier Tuesday, said encampment residents had started fires to keep warm and posed a potential risk to the surrounding woods and nearby natural gas lines. Chargers to Waste Management trucks had been unplugged in order to provide electricity to the encampment, Jones said.
“People would ask, why didn’t you do something about this?” Jones said.
Waste Management spokeswoman Amanda Marks said the health and safety of the homeless people were a main priority and that the encampment’s dismantling was “unfortunate.”
She said encampment residents were told they were trespassing on private property. She said some employees at Waste Management’s hauling center were concerned about their own safety after “disorderly” encampment occupants approached them.
Jones said other nearby businesses also had complained about the encampment.
Foodland general manager Jeff Joseph said some homeless people had used the store to bathe in its restrooms. He said they’ve also destroyed property on multiple occasions.
“It’s really gotten bad in the last year . when it grew to a certain level, it was really out of control,” Joseph said. “It’s very damaging not just to us, but to all the area businesses.”
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.