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West Virginia church gives homeless people safe storage space

A church in West Virginia just marked its second year providing a safe storage space for homeless people who otherwise would have been worried about their belongings being stolen.

Carla Hall sifted through a large plastic container in the basement of a Charleston church and pulled out a dress.

“It’s for a real date, if I actually ever get out of here,” Hall said, holding it up. “I cannot wait until I can actually have that on with shoes.”

Since her divorce, Hall has been without a place to call her own. She stays on friends’ couches, sleeps outside or in a shelter.


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Hall stores her belongings at the Transitional Storage Center, operated by the Religious Coalition for Community Renewal. The program is located in the basement of St. Marks United Methodist Church, in downtown Charleston.

For Hall, who recently signed a lease for an apartment, participating in the program means she hasn’t had to worry about her things being stolen.

“Having this is so helpful,” she said. “Can you imagine trying to haul all this in a wheelchair or a scooter or something like that? All this stuff would be gone. That’s thousands of dollars’ worth of donations.”

The Transitional Storage Center opened in May 2021 and recently marked its second year. The center is open each weekday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. During that time, participants may access their belongings in one of 150 storage containers, which include lockers, storage totes and bins. Bins and totes are secured daily with zip ties.

“We tried to set it up in between the times that people get out of the shelter and the breakfast and lunch at Manna Meal,” program director Miranda Nabers said of the center’s hours. “That way, we know people have the time to come in here to get their belongings (or) put them away. If they need to pick up a birth certificate, if they need to (get their) ID, they can come in here. So it’s kind of helpful to have that storage place for those important documents you need for housing, for a job.”

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The center also charges cellphones and offers a boutique of donated clothing and books. Down the hall in the same building, the Kanawha Valley Collective’s centralized assessment team is available to help people get into shelter.

“We look at it as a program,” executive director Kevin Jones said. “You could be in it for three months or 18 months, but the goal is, ultimately, as a way that you can store personal documents, you can store belongings that are very meaningful to you, and then clothing, and kind of utilize it as a steppingstone from homelessness to housing, ultimately.”

The storage center fills a gap in homeless services identified in prior litigation against the city.

After then-Charleston mayor Danny Jones ordered the police department dismantle a homeless encampment of about 20 to 30 people along the Elk River near the Spring Street Bridge in January 2016, two unsheltered people sued the city.

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs Terry Cutright and John Wilson alleged that the police department and then-mayor Jones “jointly arranged for and carried out the search, seizure and destruction of the Plaintiff’s personal property without providing prior notice or opportunity to be heard, and without a warrant.”

In a mediation agreement dated Sept. 26, 2017, the city said it would use its best efforts to work with local homeless providers to identify a location for an outdoor storage facility to be used by the homeless free of charge and complete facility by July 1, 2018.

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Councilwoman Becky Ceperley, who chaired the city’s now-defunct Homeless Task Force, said the group had discussed the possibility of opening a storage facility, to no avail.

RCCR met with the Task Force about the possibility of opening the facility in 2020, Kevin Jones said.

“When we came to it, it was more or less … closing that gap in the community,” he said. “We know that there was a need for it, and so we just kind of pushed ahead with it.”

The organization started exploring options for the facility in 2020, a process that involved visiting similar facilities in Los Angeles and San Diego, he said. Jones said they found that programs with a housing focus were more successful.

“We found that a managed facility is more effective, and since we’re a housing-focused organization, we wanted to make it have a housing focus,” Jones said. “So there’s an outreach component to it. We’re talking with the unsheltered population to kind of get them to utilize the service, and let them know about it. But at the same time, we offer case management services like rapid rehousing.”

The facility hovers around its capacity of 150 but hasn’t had to open a waiting list yet, he said.

In the two years its been open, the facility has served a total of 241 program participants, Jones said. That number doesn’t include those who have abandoned their belongings there. Staff members clear out belongings after 90 days, if people haven’t checked in with them. Of the participants, 85 have left the program because they got into treatment or permanent housing, Jones said.

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Sam Barton said the center is “basically a home” for him. He comes every day to charge his phone and spends the whole three hours there.

“I’ve got me a bin; most people don’t get a bin,” he said. “Bins are hard to come by. When I’m out there, the only thing I’ve got with me is my sleeping stuff, and I got my tobacco and stuff like that. I’ve got all my clothes in here in the bin.”

The bin came in handy, he said, especially recently, when he was arrested and sent to jail. Other people he’d been with told him they would watch the tent, tarp and other items he had with him at the time, he said, but they were stolen anyway.

“I really didn’t lose a whole lot, because I had a lot in the bin here,” Barton said. “All my clothes and stuff was here, so I still at least have that.”

To mark the storage facility’s second anniversary and to raise funds, RCCR will host a Café of May Fundraiser on May 22, 24 and 26. People may order meals to be picked up or delivered by visiting RCCR.org, calling 304-741-5526 or emailing [email protected].

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