BUCKHANNON — Reverend Zac Morton, pastor at Morgantown’s First Presbyterian Church, has set out to bring awareness to the “houseless” by walking over 175 miles from Morgantown to Charleston. Morton reached Buckhannon Wednesday afternoon and stayed overnight on Wesleyan’s campus. A 2007 graduate from West Virginia Wesleyan College with dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in History and Religion, Morton has been serving as the pastor of First Presbyterian for over two years.
Morton said he was inspired to raise awareness about this growing epidemic through his work in the church and the City of Morgantown. He explained that his church is in downtown Morgantown, which is highly exposed to the houseless population. Morton mentioned he has gotten to know this population through his church, as well as direct service organizations, such as Health Right and the Friendship House. He was also inspired to start his journey due to this being an election year, and the possibility of it drawing attention for action.
“Normally, people just don’t hear the stories. They don’t hear about the nuances of how people get in those situations or how hard it is for them to get out of those situations,” Morton shared. He explained the profound impact of “just seeing the humanity of those people who are in those crisis situations and really had very few options.”
He also talked about a camp started at the beginning of the COVID pandemic for those experiencing houselessness called Diamond Village. Morton elaborated, “We still saw how much stigma and misunderstanding there is for folks who are in those situations, and that people are really quick to rush to assumptions about the worst in people and don't quite understand the dynamics that people are dealing with. That became really clear when we were working with Diamond Village.”
After figuring out it was possible, Morton talked to people who are experiencing houselessness, as well as those involved in direct service throughout the state. “I try to get as broad of a base and learn as much as I can, so I can use this social platform to help people understand all the nuances and all the complexities of how people get into these situations, as well as how hard it is for them to get out of the situations,” he further explained.
Morton’s hobby is hiking; however, he admits he has not committed to anything of this length before and didn’t train to prepare either. He shared that he has hiked sections of the Appalachian Trail, but not across a state, and not for a cause. “This is something that I thought would be unique to me, something that I could do. It’s my way of helping,” he shared. “The walking piece is in solidarity with folks who just kind of get walked on by others all the time.”
Morton reported it has been good so far. Along the way, he is conducting interviews with direct service organizations and highlighting intersectional issues each day.
" I want people to know these folks exist in so many communities and because of assumptions we make and our tendencies to walk on by, they are kind of an invisible population,” Morton said. He added, “These folks do have a home, what they don’t have is a house or any kind of shelter at all. These folks are human beings, they do have a home. They deserve a certain amount of dignity and deserve for us to pay attention and figure out if there are ways that we can help better these situations and barriers that people get caught up in. The whole structure of our society is not designed for them or to meet their needs particularly well at all.”
Morton started his journey on Monday at 8 a.m. in Morgantown with around 30 people accompanying him for the first couple miles. He was also joined by a group from The Foundry Church in Morgantown Tuesday evening, and another group from the Church of the Covenant in Grafton has also supported him the past couple days.
Morton is not entirely putting himself in the houseless situation and is thankful for what he has. He packed a backpack, tent, trekking poles, a road flag, water bottles, sleeping bag, a change of clothes and phone chargers.
Morton encourages anyone who can to donate or share on social media to gain awareness. After the walk, he plans to conduct interviews with individuals in direct service across the state on the intersectional issues and even said he is open to doing this again, depending on the response.
His next stop is Ireland, West Virginia via Route 20 today. Morton could reach Charleston as early as Monday, depending on his progress. He plans to hike about 20 miles a day, starting around 8 a.m. and stopping near dark.
Morton is documenting his progress on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Walk4WV and Instagram at @walk4wv. He also set up a website https://www.walk4wv.org/, which provides more information on the cause, his route and donations. You can also reach him at [email protected] There is also a GoFundMe and Venmo account, @Walk4WV, set up to assist the Morgantown community. Morton also suggests supporting local services and organizations in their towns, such as in schools and in the churches.
“This issue of extreme poverty is so complicated that it cannot be solved by one particular person or one particular organization who’s doing direct service work. We need cooperation and we need relationships across communities, of many people who care about this issue to come together to address all the different facets of it. I think that’s the only way we can really make a big impact,” Morton said.