Public safety forum held in Huntington

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A panel of local experts shared information and answered audience questions on crime, health and the homeless Tuesday night.

A panel of local experts shared information and answered audience questions on crime, health, and the homeless Tuesday night.

The event was held at Christ Temple Church in Huntington and was organized by Cabell County Commissioner Kelli Sobonya and Delegate John Mandt Jr.

Harmony House Executive Director Amanda Coleman told the crowd that the majority of the homeless population they deal with in and around Huntington is from Cabell County. She said others come from places like Lincoln and Mingo counties that don't have the resources to help the homeless. She says the notion some have that the needle exchange program is drawing in a lot of homeless people from other states is not correct.

"We do have people come in from out of state," Coleman said. "I don't want to say that doesn't happen. It's just a smaller percentage."

Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle said they've learned a large percentage of criminals have infiltrated the local homeless population.

"A lot of these people aren't our citizens and don't belong here, but they've come here," Zerkle said. "They're felons. They're hampering the recovery of these people. We've identified some of those folks. We are going to extract them out of the homeless community."

With an unprecedented 76 confirmed cases of HIV in Cabell County, the health department's Dr. Michael Kilkenny says identifying those who have it is a huge step, and their harm reduction program plays a big role in that.

"We can't stop infection if we can't find it," he said.

Organizers are hoping to hold another community forum before the holidays. That one will focus on how these issues are affecting children.

Chris Miller from Dutch Miller Auto moderated the event.