Huntington’s Frigid Conditions Mean “White Flag” at City Mission; Those Not “Banned” Welcome

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Another River Dwelling
Another River Dwelling

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – Back in 2006-2007 a locally produced documentary --- “On the River’s Edge” --- detailed the lives of Huntington’s homeless that choose to live in tents by the river, despite the availabilities of homeless shelters.

A minister speaking  at a service Sunday, January 9,  said that in frigid conditions the homeless have a place to get in from the freezing and snowy conditions, The Huntington City Mission. Left unstated or not known to the preacher, they must follow the rules , be compliant and not be banned from the building at 624 Tenth Street.

HNN shot photos Sunday, January 9, though, of tents and other “housing” on the edge of the Ohio River.


The Huntington City Mission website states that Emergency Shelter is available for “clients who participate in the [mission’s] services “receive food, clothing and shelter under the conditions of the Mission policy.”


According to Pastor Pete Davidson, executive director, those who follow the City Mission’s set of rules obtain a “warm, dry , clean place to stay, three meals a day, showers, and paid utilities.” A room and meals cost $6.35 daily, if the client has an income. If they do not have funds, they can do “a two hour chore a day that normally turns out to be about thirty minutes.”


He confirmed that the mission has a “white flag” (i.e. inclement weather, 40 degrees and under or 90 degrees and above) policy in which people “suspended” from the mission are welcome to stay. However, “if you have been barred from our mission, you are not allowed on our property.”

Davidson indicated that the banning comes from “choices” people have made. Conduct which would lead to banning from the property include damaging property, fighting with or threatening the staff, verbally aggressive to other clients, caught smoking on our property. In short, “We can’t allow one individual to put 80 others in harm’s way,” Davidson explained. “They know the rules, it is their choice.”


“I’ve had to bar some people recently for being caught smoking in the bathrooms,” Pastor Davidson said, stressing “we sleep 30 to 40 children every night at the mission. That endangers not only adults but the children.”


As for alcohol or drug issues, Pastor Davidson said, “If someone comes in drunk and they are compliant , we let them lay down and sleep it off. If they come in wanting to fight, threatening people and causing problems, we do not.” For drug use, “if we catch them with something on them, we have to suspend them. We can’t always tell if they come in ‘high’ as we have a lot of people with mental problems. The main thing is being compliant.”


What options does that leave for anyone banned due to their “choices” which were not in compliance with the Mission rules? “There are churches in Huntington they can go to and ask for help,” Davidson said. “They can try the Salvation Army.”


Davidson stated that in a cold spell the Salvation Army has a van and will pick up mission overflow.


“We can call them in the middle of the night and they will send a van over,” Davidson said. The people will stay in an auxiliary shelter.


In a 2007 article addressing the removal of a tent city in Huntington, Francesca E. Karle, who produced and directed “On the River’s Edge,” explained the roots of homelessness. Karle told the audience that alcohol and drug additions generally contribute to their situation. Other adults object to the City Mission’s rule. A few choose the vagabond lifestyle. For instance, one man who lost his family in a house fire vowed never to live inside a structure again.


Huntington City Councilwoman Frances Jackson disagreed with the strictness of the policy. “Give them a place to come in from out of the cold, watch TV, talk or whatever.”


HNN has spoken with ex-clients who contend that Mission policies have been unfairly applied. Describing the problem as “an old problem with a new face,” a former client told of “new” homeless faces who have college degrees and have been forced on the streets by the severe recession.


The former mission client contends that he was retaliated against by mission staff for speaking out about inconsistent application of rules. This person was allegedly punished by an “Army style method” in which  “the whole outfit is punished for one person’s screw up.” In the words of this ex-client, other clients then vandalized his property and pushed him down. In addition he stated that “his personal information was given out” by one or more staffers.


He witnessed “ people [in wheelchairs] kicked out in the middle of the night who could not pay” for their room.


According to the former client, a man beaten by teens in September at Harris Riverfront Park had stayed at the mission. The beating victim allegedly had violated a mission rule by wearing a t-shirt with his nickname. The man’s nickname allegedly referred to a West Virginia county and offended a woman with a similar name.


“If he had not gotten kicked out of the Mission, he would not have been beat up by the teenagers,” the ex-client stated, then said these are not “actions that Jesus would do.”