Homelessness in Morgantown: Everyone’s Problem

The issue of homelessness in Morgantown, W.Va. is not a secret. If you walk down High Street at anytime of the day or night, you’re likely to be asked if you could spare some change. This is a small piece of the issue that we see before our eyes, but there is much more to the story than this. You may be surprised to know how much the growing homeless population in Morgantown impacts your life.   homeless in morgantown

Photo courtesy of MountaineerNewsService.com

According to WDTV, the homeless population in Morgantown grew by 30 percent just last year. The cold weather and holidays may have some of us thinking of the less fortunate, but it’s not just the people you see on the streets that are in need of help.

Beyond the stereotype:

  • The primary cause of homelessness in Morgantown is lack of affordable housing.
  • The majority of people experiencing homelessness in the community are not visible like the people we see on the streets.
  • The majority of homeless people in the community are working at least part time.
  • Families with children are the fastest growing portion of the homeless population in Morgantown.

According to the Morgantown Homelessness Task Force, “The immediate impact of homelessness is, of course, on those who find themselves without a place to live. However, this problem also affects the quality of life for all in our community. The costs of homelessness are not just borne by those who directly experience homelessness. Everyone pays at least some of the personal, health, social, economic and governmental costs of homelessness because of the demand upon, and cost of, police, health and other public services.”

As the temperature drops each day, you may be asking now more than ever, what is being done to address this growing issue?

  • In September, Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller announced more than $23 million in federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for community development, affordable housing, and homelessness prevention and relief in West Virginia.
  • The Homelessness Task Force is a creation of the Morgantown City Council and the Monongalia County Commission.  Its goal is to address homelessness and vagrancy in Morgantown and the surrounding metropolitan area.
  • The City of Morgantown Community Development Office administrates annual grant monies from the federal government with the goal of providing decent housing, a suitable living environment and expanded economic opportunities.
  • Multidisciplinary Unsheltered Homeless Relief Outreach: Morgantown (MUSHROOM) is a medical student outreach to homeless people in Morgantown. Every two weeks, medical students with faculty physicians make rounds on the streets to find the homeless to give medical care and food.
  • Homeless Shelters and clothing places such as Christian Help offer the less fortunate food, shelter and a temporary peace of mind.

The actions being taken and institutions being created are a start, but there is a large misconception among residents in town of what it truly means to be homeless in this area. The sooner we realize that the majority of homeless people are not the ones we see begging for money on High Street, the better. We need to realize that a majority of this population is made up of families and people who are working. If housing is so expensive that a working mother or father can’t afford to put a roof over their child’s head, that’s something that should concern us all.

DUI : Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over

Morgantown is famous for it’s alcohol consumption. You may have heard the popular phrase, “A drinking town with a football problem” used to describe it, and with the way our football season has been going, it’s pretty true. You may have also heard the phrase, “Win or lose, we still booze”—also true.

But, game day isn’t the only time students and residents binge drink. WVU has a reputation as the number one party school in the nation. The average student will spend an average of $900 per year on alcohol, that’s almost more than the cost of books for Fall and Spring semester.

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After conducting a survey in Morgantown, nearly 60 percent of respondents indicated that they have driving while under the influence of alcohol. This helps us understand why the DUI rate is so high.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Drive sober or get pulled over.” Why do people make such a big deal out of driving under the influence? Drunk driving is the most frequently committed crime and therefore is always relevant. An alcohol-related crash kills one person every 31 minutes and injures one person every two minutes. We know drinking and driving is wrong, yet many choose to do it anyway.

Don’t think it’s a problem at WVU? Wrong. In fact, just early Sunday morning,  WVU Football player Travis Bell was arrested for DUI. After conducting a survey of 45 students on their drinking and driving habits, nearly 56 percent of respondents admitted to driving while under the influence of alcohol. Seventy percent of those respondents said they only allow themselves two drinks before driving home. The problem with this is that everyone has a different alcohol tolerance level.

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The majority of survey respondents report only drinking one or two alcoholic beverages before driving. However, two drinks for a smaller person could mean they’re above the legal limit.

Blood Alcohol Content percentages vary from state to state. Morgantown is a primarily a transient city–especially with the college students in and out each semester. In West Virginia, a blood alcohol content level of .02 percent if you’re under the age of 21, a BAC of .08 percent if you’re over the age of 21 or a commercial BAC of .04 percent could land you a DUI. A first offense could cause you jail time for up to six months or a fine from $100 to $1000 depending on your BAC or even a license suspension. Additionally, refusal to take a DUI chemical test results in an automatic license suspension. In the month of October alone, the City of Morgantown cited 29 DUIs. Since the beginning of November, WVU police have cited four DUIs. If you look through these reports you’ll find that DUI isn’t just a weekend problem. In October, there was a DUI reported on nearly every day of the week. 

One thing many people don’t realize is that just because you slept for a few hours doesn’t mean you’ll be sober when you wake up. You can still get pulled over for DUI the morning after a night of partying if you drive and  your BAC is too high.

According to the survey, students are trying to be safer. Nearly 45 percent of students said they make sure they have a designated driver before they go out. Additionally, five percent say they take a bus or a taxi, 28 percent say they walk, and six percent say they call someone. However, even with all of these alternatives, 11 percent of WVU students still say they choose to drive under the influence.There are now other alternatives offered at WVU. Dub V Safe Ride is trying to help solve the DUI problem here in Morgantown. The service offers drivers who ride a foldable scooter. When contacted via the Dub V Safe ride app, the driver rides the scooter to pick up the drunk student, folds up the scooter puts it in the trunk of the car, and drives the student and their car home safely. Then, the Dub V Safe Ride driver hops back on the scooter and goes to save the next drunk student. The program services all of Morgantown and its surrounding areas. You can even make reservations for long distance calls to Fairmont, Uniontown, and Washington, PA.

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There are many alternatives to drinking and driving.

Why Small Business Saturday is Stupid

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I know I might seem like the last person to rag on something like Small Business Saturday, but I have some issues. Last Saturday Morgantown businesses celebrated the “venerated” holiday, but there’s a number of practical and holistic reasons we should abolish the practice altogether. I appreciate the idea but not the execution.

1. The idea that we should only celebrate small businesses one day a year is ignorant. It puts small business in a realm of commemoration alongside things we should care about but habitually tune out – AIDs research and breast cancer awareness are painful examples. Unfortunately, lots of people are numb to these awareness months, barring huge programs like Relay for Life. Associating small business with charity is a bad way to think about our local economy.
What has “awareness” done for anybody? Being “aware” is a lot different than actually taking action. Thanks to Small Business Saturday, people can be “aware” that small businesses exist and shop there once a year.

2. It’s celebrated on the worst possible day of the year. Sure, I see what they tried to do. It’s logical to try and ride the wave of Black Friday shopping, but there’s still a problem here. We’re making small business an afterthought, a place we go after we binge-shop at major chains. People should be lining up outside of local businesses on Black Friday, not visiting the day after when they’re exhausted and presumably broke. Let’s make it Small Business Black Friday instead.

3. Small Business Saturday promotes the trivialization of small businesses. When American Express started the tradition of recognizing small businesses they had good intentions, but the fact we need this kind of day identifies our failure to recognize how important small business are. Small businesses are the cornerstone of our world. More than half of the working population (like 120 million people) work in small businesses. Small businesses have generated 65 percent of new jobs since ’95. There are 28 million small businesses in the United States.
Those stats are nothing to shake a stick at. Saying we need a “day of commemoration” makes small businesses sound like a small, marginalized part of the business world, which is far from true. If we want to fix our cultural perspective on small businesses we need more than just a day of celebration – we need entire years of recognition. We should all respect our local business owners for what they do and shop locally everyday – it’s the key for making our community vibrant and strong.

Europe’s had this figured out for ages. Their small businesses aren’t just vibrant – they’re sexy. As a result, chains have trouble catching on, and every community has a unique business environment. Let’s get on the bandwagon.

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Cafe de Flore, Paris. Photo by Damien Roue.

Black Friday Cheat Sheet: Morgantown and Beyond

Black Friday can be a wild experience, but if you’re up for the task, it can be well worth it.

First you need to decide if Black Friday shopping is for you. (I mean really think it through.) If there isn’t a particular item you have in mind, it probably isn’t worth going. Black Friday isn’t the time to go browsing. However, if you have a plan, know what you’re going to buy and don’t eat too much turkey beforehand, you can master Black Friday. Here’s your cheat sheet:

The Morgantown Mall:

Select stores in the mall will be opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. This includes Aeropostale, American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, PacSun, JC Penney, Elder-Beerman, Journeys, Spencer’s and Charlotte Russe among many others. Finish Line, Forever 21, Radio Shack and the GAP will be opening at midnight with Christopher and Banks, GNC and Francesca’s opening at 6 a.m. The rest of the mall will open at 8 a.m. on Black Friday. (Click here to read the full listing.) Plan accordingly!

University Town Center:

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Image from Target.com. This is the best price for the iPad Air, however, Walmart is having the best deal for the iPad Mini.

The Town Center holds many of the big-name department stores that will be having great deals on Black Friday. For example, Target is a major player on Black Friday. They even have a pre-Black Friday sale going on now. For the real deal though, check out their advertisement for Black Friday. Some of the best deals include a Nintendo 3DS for only $149.99, an iPad Air for $479 with a $100 Target gift card and an Xbox Kinect bundle for $189.99.

Walmart is another major Black Friday hub. If you’re wanting to get an iPad Mini, this is the best place to purchase it. They’re on sale for $299 and include a $100 Walmart gift card. Other great deals include a $29 HP printer and some great prices on TVs (see below). Walmart is having a special this Black Friday where you’re guaranteed certain items at the sale price so long as you pick up a wristband between the allotted time (which varies per product). Don’t forget, they’ll price match everything, too. (Pssst.. don’t forget there’s another Walmart in Morgantown! This one might be less busy.)

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Image from Walmart.com. Here are just a few of the great prices on TVs.

Best Buy is the third big one in the Town Center. Doors open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, but there will be special doorbusters throughout the evening. Great deals include an Xbox 360 bundle worth $399.95 for only $189.99, discounted DVDs (between $1.99 and $9.99, originally $2.99 to $59.99) and $200 savings on HP Intel laptops. Keep in mind, though, you need to have a ticket for all doorbusters.

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Image from best buy.com. Save $200 on HP Intel laptops!

Unfortunately, Morgantown doesn’t have all the best deals. If you’re serious about savings, travel up to Pennsylvania to get great deals (and get out of paying sales tax on clothing!)

Tanger Outlets:

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Image form Tanger Outlets. Get 20 and 30 percent off when you download the savings card.

Tanger Outlets in Washington, Pa. is just a short drive from Morgantown. It opens at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Download the bonus card to save 20 percent from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., and save 30 percent from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. Additionally, individual stores are having some great deals on their own, too! If you want to avoid the Black Friday rush, they’ll be having deals all weekend.

The Mall at Robinson:

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Image from the Mall at Robinson’s Facebook page.

Located in Robinson Town Center, Pa., the Mall at Robinson is a fairly short drive from Morgantown, too. The mall is hosting an event, Shop Like a Rockstar starting at midnight with gift card giveaways and freebies.

The mall includes a Macy’s, Banana Republic, Sears, (a really awesome) Forever 21, JC Penney and Buckle among many others.

With this guide, a little planning and a lot of patience, Black Friday can be a success. Good luck, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Black Friday: Is It Worth It?

America, is this really what we’ve come to in order to save a few bucks?

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Many people take to social media to share their feelings on Black Friday.

Black Friday has been around since the 1960s. The original term was coined to mark the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Since then, people have taken the words Black Friday to mean, do all of your Christmas shopping in the same day and take no prisoners.

As a child, I was a religious Black Friday shopper with my mother. I’ve seen it all. I watched an elderly lady steal a Christmas tree from me at age eight. I watched one mom punch another mom over an original Furby. I’ve seen parents play tug of war with a Tickle Me Elmo, and I’ve encountered some really rude people. The one thing I remember thinking as a child is, “Am I crazy? Or are these people crazy?”

Don’t get me wrong, the whole experience was an adrenaline rush for sure, and I always got what went out for, because if you’re going to subject yourself to the madness, you might as well come out a champion. However, as I’ve got older, things are changing, and this “holiday” seems almost ridiculous.

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Stores say customer demand has pushed them to open on Thanksgiving evening, but many customers say differently.

Black Friday is no longer a Friday only event with stores opening at 8pm on Thanksgiving night. Workers have been asked to sacrifice their Thanksgiving, a holiday where we’re supposed to give thanks and celebrate what we have, for greedy shoppers trying to save an extra dollar. It’s a little ironic that we’re sacrificing a holiday that observes thankfulness for materialism. Stores say they’re opening on Thanksgiving due to consumer demand, but let’s be serious it’s more like consumer acceptance. The same amount of people showed up for Black Friday before it was Black Thursday.

What are a couple tips for staying safe?

Stake out the Merchandise in Advance.  Check out the merchandise in advance. Know what you want to get and where it will be located. Go to the store early, ask the attendants where the line for the product you want will be and station yourself there.

Take Backup. There are safety in numbers. Take a friend or family member shopping with you. Instead of using your cell phone to communicate, take two-way radios to stay in contact. Many stores have bad service. Plus with two of you, there’s more of a chance you’ll get what you want.

Be nice, there will be more sales. Tempers will be running high, especially if the person ahead of you takes the last TV or iPad. Remember, you’re shopping for an inanimate object. It’s not worth injuring someone over. Black Friday isn’t the only day there are sales; there will be discounts on popular items all the way through the end of the year.

Shoppers aren’t the only people who suffer consequences on Black Friday. You don’t have to be a shopper to experience the jungle. Workers are just as at risk as shoppers who put themselves in that situation. Christina Maust used to work at Sears in Morgantown. She says after working retail on Black Friday, she will never shop during the “holiday.”

“I worked for a major retail chain during college and my first black friday as a manager I came back from lunch to find my co-workers being screamed at by a customer,” explained Maust. “I took over and it turns out the lady’s husband had purchased a piece of jewelry during the deals that morning. I sold it to him and he was very aware of what he was buying but he just wanted to find something for his wife for Christmas and be done. When she found out that what he had purchased was gold plated and not solid gold she came back demanding not only to get her money back but to receive a several hundred dollar diamond and solid gold bracelet for just 90.00 because my lies and trickery misled her husband to buy something “fake”. I said no, and she threw the bracelet as well as a stack of flyers at me. Eventually the store manager got involved. She walked out with the several hundred dollar bracelet for the price she wanted and called me names I’ve never even heard before. I’ve never been so close to walking out of a job before. I even had other witnesses saying they could not believe what I was allowed to take and that not only was the customer not escorted out by security but got what she wanted in the end. I now refuse to shop/support black friday after being on the other end.”

So is Black Friday worth it?

Experts say to remember that cheap junk is often just that, junk. They also say to remember that time is money. Evaluate your efforts—the lost sleep, the long lines, how much you’re actually saving, and the cold weather. After that evaluation does it seem worth it? If so, go for it.

Boycotting Black Friday may or may not be the answer, but thinking about how your acting in the heat of the action is important. Is that five dollar cheaper crock pot really worth a trip to jail?

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The irony of Black Friday beginning on Thanksgiving is that it takes away the true meaning of the holiday.

A Diverse Look at WVU: Susmita Patel

Traveling miles from home to go to college can be taxing on anyone, especially when it’s internationally. As I discussed in my last post, West Virginia University has many clubs and organizations based solely around diversity and students of different cultural backgrounds. One of those clubs is called the Indian Students Association, or as members like to call it, ISA. The association is very active and includes about 400 students, often having dinners as well as get-togethers.Photo Nov 22, 12 56 52 PM

“The goal of the association is to provide a congenial atmosphere for the student community from India.”

I had the pleasure of speaking to a former member of the ISA here at WVU, Susmita Patel, as she clued me in on happenings of the association. Aside from helping to put on different dance performances for Tarang, Diwali, diversity week, Indian Independence Day and other student organizations, Patel says there is much more to the association than performing dances.Photo Nov 22, 12 56 47 PM

Luckily she has never felt out of place or discriminated against in Morgantown, and even expressed that no one she knows has felt that way either. A culture shock upon first stepping foot into Morgantown seemed rather normal and exciting to her, though some international students might not be as excited. Although it may seem extremely diverse to a typical student, international students may feel like there is nobody to call “friend” or even “family.”

Student organizations like the ISA take control as soon as these students get off of the plane from India. They do so by picking them up from the airport and arranging a place to live, and even easing them into other school activities. These student associations create somewhat of a niche for all students to form their home away from home, giving them a sense of security and people to hang out with that they can trust.Photo Nov 22, 12 56 49 PM

Patel went on to tell me that every semester the ISA helps the new students from India to integrate into the social norms of the United States, especially if it’s their first time being here. It can be very scary, and can cause feelings of disorientation. To help with the transition, ISA holds an event called Freshers that acts as a type of icebreaker among the existing and new students.

“Freshers is very helpful, especially because they can find their place amongst potential friends, this way no one feels out of place or like that have to change themselves to fit in.”

The Freshers party is a huge way to combat feelings of not fitting in. The current students show the ins and outs, regarding social norms or even school work. Both parties, new students and old, benefit from each other during this process making integration much simpler.

American-born students still hold to the cultures and traditions of their ethnic backgrounds, though they may not completely understand the real cultural meaning behind some of the traditions, like language. This is Photo Nov 22, 12 56 40 PMwhere the international students can really help the more Americanized students in understanding their culture. On the other hand, the American students help the international students to lighten up and have a little fun, teaching them to become more outgoing and to open up socially.

Diversity clearly affects everyone in a positive way. Let’s hope we can show our loving spirit over the next few years and welcome even more international students to the Mountaineer family!

If you or someone you know would like to connect with ISA members, visit their Facebook page!

-All photos from Susmita Patel.

Parking in Morgantown: a Bitter College-Town Problem

It’s no secret that parking in Morgantown is terrible. With a growing population (outward–ahem, the sprawl of West Run) there is a serious lack of parking. Because of this, it’s also no surprise that the towing companies are sketchy in this area.

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The good news is there are some people and groups trying to fix these problems.

  • Shannon Martin, a Morgantown native and sophomore at West Virginia University is working on extending the amount of time you can park at the meter. It varies by location in Morgantown, but the maximum time is typically 10 hours. Considering Morgantown’s demographics (a large college-age population) and tourism in the area, this rule is inconvenient for students and visitors. Between move-in day for students, home football games and other attractions that bring tourists to our hometown, parking in Morgantown has a large impact. Martin is currently working on a petition to extend these hours.
  • SALA recently had a “Know Your Rights” campaign to raise awareness of towing companies breaking the rules. Check out this recent article about Ben Seebaugh’s experience with the towing companies around here.
  • The City of Morgantown is trying–really! With the Morgantown Parking Authority, the City of Morgantown featured a parking spot of the week this past summer, though they stopped in July. (They do have a decent, up-to-date map on the site that’s pretty helpful.) The Parking Authority also lets you pay citations online now, which is very convenient for students.
  • WVU is helping, too. (Here’s a handy map they made!) On Sundays they have a little-known shopping shuttle that goes out to the mall and the University Town Center so you don’t have to make the drive. Similar to the City of Morgantown, they let you pay WVU parking tickets online, too.

Keep in mind you don’t necessarily need your car in Morgantown, anyway (here’s looking at you, incoming freshmen!) Though it is rickety, the PRT  is a great alternative to driving around Morgantown. Mountain Line is another great option for going back and forth among campuses. The Caperton Trail (known as the Rail Trail) is another great way to get around Morgantown that’s healthy and fun. Additionally, all of these are free for students (you don’t even have to pay for gasoline!)

Riding the PRT is a great way to travel around Morgantown! (Though arguably, this video is terrifying.)

video from West Virginia University Transportation and Parking

What are your thoughts on parking in Morgantown?