Homelessness is more common in Upshur County than you might think

A program that was launched to fight housing challenges during the pandemic continues to battle homelessness in Upshur County.

Nicki Bentley-Colthart, Programs and Process Development Director at Mountain CAP of WV, told Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce members during their March meeting that Mountain CAP served 170 homeless families in 2021.

And that number is continuing to climb.

“We started this program in May 2020 because we anticipated there would be more needs, and we get calls every day. Every single day,” she said. “It’s growing.”

Bentley-Colthart said Mountain CAP might receive 200 calls in a two-week period from Upshur, Lewis, Braxton, and Webster counties.

“The majority are from Upshur, since we’re based here,” she said.

There are many reasons people end up homeless, Bentley-Colthart said, noting the definition encompasses both those who are “literally homeless” and those at imminent risk of losing their home.

Nearly half the families Mountain CAP served in 2021 had at least one person employed part-time, but almost all were below the poverty line.

“If your entire monthly income is $600 to $800, you really can’t live in this area,” she said. “It’s challenging.”

Part of the problem, she explained, is that rent costs surged when work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline began several years ago. Although the pipeline has since been scrapped, rent remains elevated.

“There is not enough affordable housing in our area,” she said. “We also have inflated rent due to the pipeline coming through a few years ago… We are in constant discussions with landlords on how we can make things affordable and help people out.”

Many people locally also fall into the “literally homeless” category. Over the winter, the organization conducted a “point-in-time” count to determine the number of people living without shelter.

“On that one night alone, we had at least 30 people living outside in 10-degree weather,” Bentley-Colthart told Chamber members. “That shocked me.”

In 2021, Mountain CAP helped 39 households obtain safe and affordable housing and maintain that for at least 90 days, according to Bentley-Colthart. They helped 53 households avoid eviction, and 37 individuals or households were able to obtain utility services.

Mountain CAP operates on a housing-first model.

“The only way to end homelessness is to provide homes,” Bentley-Colthart said. “Our first goal is to get them into a home, then we work on the issues that led them into a homeless situation”

Among the services offered are temporary rent assistance, security deposits, hotel/motel vouchers and ongoing case management.

But getting someone into a house is just the first step.

“Once we house someone, our case managers really go to work,” Bentley-Colthart said. “Everyone has a different circumstance, but once our case managers can move in, they help set goals.”

Case managers at Mountain CAP help families budget their resources, obtain food stamps, and connect with other social services.

“We have a whole-family approach, so we look at all the needs in that family… and what barriers there are to maintaining housing,” she said.

The program, which had expenses of more than $500,000 in 2021, also assists with housing inspections, mediation with landlords, and family relations.

“It’s not a cheap endeavor, but it does make a lasting impact,” Bentley-Colthart noted, adding that they are always looking for funding opportunities.

If you need housing assistance or would like more information about the program, contact Mountain CAP at 304-472-1500.

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