The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Wheeling over a camping ban it says criminalizes being homeless.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit late Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Wheeling against the city and city manager Robert Herron on behalf of Heather Corn, a 45-year-old woman who is homeless and House of Hagar Catholic Worker House.

The city passed an ordinance in November that makes it illegal for people, except when permitted by the city manager, to camp on “any street, sidewalk, alley, easement, park, nature preserve, conservation park, parking lots, public grounds, public right of way or under any bridge or viaduct.”

The ACLU had warned the city Friday of its plans to sue if officials did not “comply with constitutional concerns” in the ordinance by stopping enforcement of the ban until there are a sufficient number of beds available to house the city’s homeless population, or until there’s an alternative location established that is exempt from the ban.

Additionally, representatives of several homeless providers also spoke out against the ban, requesting the city’s enforcement be delayed until a managed camp could be established.

The Wheeling City Council met Tuesday evening and did not take action to pause the ban.

“We said we would file a lawsuit against Wheeling if officials failed to stop criminalizing homelessness in public and now we are,” ACLU-WV Legal Director Aubrey Sparks said in a news release Wednesday. “Wheeling was given time to solve this issue and chose not to — if they continue to kick the can down the road, then they will be forced to deal with this issue by a court.”

According to the complaint, Corn was in a tent where she lived on the morning of Jan. 3 when bulldozers from the city came to tear down the encampment, at first giving the woman four hours notice to remove her belongings. After being presented with a court’s prior order regarding the destruction of homeless camps, the agents ultimately agreed to give the woman two weeks notice and to post notices at other camps they intended to dismantle.

“Heather now faces a paradox — she needs to sleep, and yet there are no places to do so outdoors in Wheeling and she is not consistently able to secure a bed in a shelter because of their limited availability,” the complaint says.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Herron said he had not received any formal requests for areas exempted from the ordinance but said there had been discussion with Catholic Charities of West Virginia about the Nelson Jordan Center.

“Any exemption would be short term while we work through coming to a solution,” he said. “And not every exemption would be granted. We do have issues with certain camps that need to be addressed.”

In a news release, Kate Marshall, a facilitator at House of Hagar, said the organization filed the lawsuit after exhausting other options.

“Even after over two-dozen of the leading social service agencies called on the city of Wheeling to find solutions, the city didn’t respond with action,” Marshall said. “The City has not had a ‘formal process’ for camp exemptions. Despite this, we and other service providers have made documented requests for campsite exemptions to the city manager’s office, as recently as December 2023. Again, none of our requests have received a response.

“Unfortunately, this has been a pattern with the city. We have been sending proposals and requests to the city every year regarding more efficient ways to manage the crisis of homelessness, and these have also gone unanswered,” she said.

A call to the city of Wheeling for comment was not returned Wednesday.

* West Virginia Watch is a nonprofit media source. Articles are shared under creative commons license. Please visit for more independent Mountain State news coverage.

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