Ronceverte Planning Commission reviews application for a homeless shelter in town neighborhood

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

“We normally have two people at these meetings,” Leah Smith said as she opened the Ronceverte Zoning & Planning Commission Meeting before a crowd of several dozen residents on Thursday evening. “I’m guessing you’re all here because of Helping Hands.” 

The commission reviewed an application by West Virginia Helping Hands to open a “residential education facility” in a Ronceverte neighborhood. 

The City of Ronceverte passed an ordinance in 2023 requiring a conditional use permit for anyone seeking to operate a homeless shelter within city limits. Helping Hands is the first to apply for such a permit.

Amy Hubbard, who leads Helping Hands, shared her vision with the commission. “We are hoping to convert the old hospital into a residential education facility. Rural communities like ours don’t have anything in place to address these needs.” 

Amy Hubbard, standing right, presents her application for a conditional use permit to operate a homeless shelter in Ronceverte. Photo by RealWV.

Practically, Hubbard says the facility will provide housing, job services, and a place for residents to “move from dependence to independence.” 

She adds that it will serve people from five counties–Greenbrier, Mercer, Monroe, Pocahontas, and Summers. 

Some local residents questioned what the purpose of the facility would be. 

Tammy Hoover said, “Where are all these homeless people coming from? Just from Ronceverte?”

“There have been many changes to the plan,” said Vi Hedrick, who lives adjacent to the proposed facility, asking if it was a homeless shelter, a substance abuse rehabilitation facility, or something else altogether? “A firm solid plan should be in place first. We’re concerned about the safety of children and the elderly.”  

Hubbard later answered, “We have no intention to offer drug rehab. Plenty of places do that.”

Members of the Ronceverte Zoning & Planning Commission–Gail White, Wayne Peer, Leah Smith, & Chris Rodriguez-Stanley–review an application from WV Helping Hands for a homeless shelter in a town neighborhood. Member Rusty Arnold joined the meeting by phone. Photo by RealWV.

Commission members proceeded to ask Hubbard a series of questions about her plans. 

Smith asked, “Do you own the property?”

“It’s a rent-to-own arrangement financed by the owner, Mike Anderson,” Hubbard replied. 

“What are your sources of funding?”

Hubbard answered, “We have a grant out from the WV Housing Development Fund that would pay for it all. If it comes through, it will pay for construction, permits, paying off the building, and three years of programming. Then HUD (Housing & Urban Development) funds would be paid to us as rent by residents.”

“What’s your eviction plan when a resident can’t stay?”

Hubbard said, “They’ll go back where they came from. We won’t dump them in Ronceverte.”

“Is it our responsibility to help people from all these other counties you’ll serve?” asked Commission Chair Wayne Peer. 

“How can I turn away from a family in need in Monroe County?” Hubbard replied. “I have a strong commitment to people who don’t have anyone else to turn to. We will have 24-hour security. We want everybody safe, including the family under the bridge.” 

“I know you said it’s not for people actively using but aren’t those the people who need your help?” asked Smith. 

“You can’t engage in illegal activity and live at Helping Hands,” said Hubbard. “We want to help people get back on their feet. I’d love for us to be the first to say we have a solution to this problem.” 

Commission member Chris Rodriguez-Stanley asked, “What would it cost per day and per person to run the facility?”

“We don’t know,” Hubbard responded. 

“But the grant covers it?” Rodriguez-Stanley said. 

“Yes.” 

Smith interjected, “We need a lot more information. I move that we make no decision right now. Let’s go for a site visit and get answers to our questions from Ms. Hubbard.” 

Peer said to Hubbard, “We’re going to need you to sell this to your neighbors. Talk to them and get letters of support.”

Photo by RealWV.

Residents on opposite sides of the issue nearly came to blows as the meeting ended. Residents don’t feel they’ve been included in the planning process, and organizers of the facility insist the need is very real. 

Commission members Rodriguez-Stanley and Smith both reiterated that everyone they’ve spoken with in town agrees the need is real, but they wonder if this particular facility in this particular place is the best fit. 

After the commission tours the facility and receives answers to their detailed questions, they could choose to hold a public hearing. A public hearing is required when the commission considers a permit request. While some residents thought Thursday’s meeting was a public hearing, it was only a public meeting to review the initial application. If the process proceeds, residents will be invited to share their support or opposition to the conditional use permit request at a formal public hearing.

Smith, who is also a member of City Council, said afterwards, “Tonight was a good first step.”

Stay tuned to RealWV for updates.

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