CHARLESTON, W.Va. – After giving the City of Wheeling 96 hours to pause its so-called “camping ban” that criminalizes being homeless in public, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) filed a lawsuit to block the ordinance from being enforced.

Wheeling City Council met Tuesday night, and while councilmembers briefly discussed the ban, they took no action to pause it. 

“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. “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.”

ACLU-WV legal staff filed the lawsuit late Tuesday evening in the Northern District of West Virginia.

Kate Marshall, facilitator at House of Hagar, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said the lawsuit was a last resort.

“House of Hagar is only filing this lawsuit after exhausting all other options,” Marshall said. “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. 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.