The men and women asking for money at intersections and convenience store entrances. The dozens staying in Code Purple shelters on bitterly cold nights and visiting soup kitchens to stave off hunger. The people who many citizens may try to avoid eye contact with in passing.
Many of these people walk around the city all night long for fear of something happening to them when they’re sleeping. They try to squeeze in whatever rest they can during the day.
Almost anonymous, they are members of a community that fights a daily battle to stay warm, clean and fed. They all have empty pockets and some have drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness and a criminal history — they are Dover’s homeless.
James Hill and Latisha Ribolla walk the journey of homelessness together in Dover. Like many homeless, they have partnered up so they know they will have somebody to watch their back.
“We stay together,” Mr. Hill said. “I know in Philly years ago they used to beat the homeless people and poured gas on them and set them on fire.”
Ms. Ribolla said everything about being homeless is difficult — and can be terrifying.
“It’s tough just having somewhere to sleep period and finding a spot where you’re not going to get locked up,” she said. “Then there’s things like going to the bathroom, bathing … pretty much all of it.
“It’s not our fault we’re homeless. I mean, things happen.”
Steven Hall, a former teacher in Georgetown, said he used to be one of those people who looked down upon the homeless. Now, he’s out walking among them.
“Homelessness occurs to people for various reasons,” Mr. Hall said. “There are over 300 of us living in the city of Dover. Fortunately, for some of them, God has blessed them and they have been able to find housing. A lot of us have not yet.
“Years ago I used to look down on these people. I used to think that addictions or bad choices are what brought you to this point. Now, I’m aware that anyone can be here.”
Mr. Hall said he’s amazed that there are warnings for bringing pets and plants inside when it’s freezing outside, but there don’t seem to be such concerns for human beings.
“This isn’t a journey that I’d recommend for anyone,” he said. “Every day is not sunshine, some days are cloudy and rainy and some days I hate the journey. But overall, I’m thankful to God for the journey. I’ve learned a lot. I never thought I’d be in this position.”
Far from being alone
Individuals and families who find themselves homeless in Delaware is a growing problem.
The Continuum of Care lead agency for Delaware and the Homeless Planning Council conducted a Point in Time (PIT) Count, a one-night tally of homeless people throughout the state, the night of Jan. 27, 2016.
A total of 1,070 people were found to be homeless that night.
The count included adults and children sleeping in emergency shelters, weather-related shelters (such as Code Purple sanctuaries), domestic violence shelters, transitional housing programs, on the streets and other places not meant for human habitation.
Corey Clampitt, a case manager at the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, which operates a homeless shelter and resource center at 680-684 Forest St., said homelessness is a broad issue with many different facets — including people with mental-health issues, drug and alcohol dependency and, many times, just bad luck.
“Most of the people find themselves here and it wasn’t a planned event,” Mr. Clampitt said. “Something happened with a relationship that went south, a job that had cutbacks and they just didn’t save enough to be able to withstand that long of a period of looking for employment.
“Then a lot of the people have just been released from prison and, unfortunately, when a person goes to prison for five to seven years, they lose the contacts with their family and their friends and then they come home and family and friends that remember them from before haven’t followed them while they were in (prison) and it takes time to build those contacts and relationships.”
Since its inception in 2008, the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing has evolved its services to best help the homeless, building on its shelter to offer transitional housing at four locations and a resource center where people can access computers, showers and a case worker to connect them to services. Though the nonprofit men’s shelter and resource center is rooted in downtown Dover, the shelter sees clients from throughout Delaware and even out of state.
Founding board member Herb Konowitz said that’s because the shelter has a reputation for providing a personal level of service. He noted a man who traveled from New Castle County because he didn’t know where to go to get food stamps and he heard that the mission could help.
“That really made me feel good,” he said.
According to its 2016 annual report, the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing provided shelter, meals and assistance to 312 homeless men — more than ever before in its nine-year history. The report said, “The high number assisted was due, in part, to the more rapid rate of success achieved by those coming into the shelter: a record 70 percent of shelter residents secured employment, and our average shelter stay declined to just 53 days.”
The most successful group within the shelter, according to the report, were those clients who came from prison; of the 254 ex-offenders housed in 2016, 196 or 77 percent were employed by the end of the year.
While finding affordable housing is critical to helping the homeless population, it is just one part of the puzzle.
Interfaith Mission chairwoman Jeanine Kleimo said future success stems from pairing housing with services.
“It takes more than housing. You can’t just give someone a bed and expect them to change their lives.”
Within the homeless population are tiers of individuals, she explained. About a quarter of the homeless are in a temporary situation caused by a job layoff or a disability. Once they start to receive their disability status and income, or find a new job, and with connections to resources, they could locate and afford housing.
The top tier, she said, is those men and women who are chronically homeless, often with severe mental illness or addiction, and require a sustained continuum of care in residential settings, Ms. Kleimo said.
The middle tier contains people who have obstacles on top of temporary or repeated periods of homelessness, such as criminal convictions, poor education and drug and alcohol addiction. They can be motivated to get their lives on track, she said, with a lot of guidance and support and supervision.
“This is a population that we’ve come to learn congregates with one another. They support one another. They don’t necessarily want to live in splendid isolation” in their own housing, she said. “So, let’s create a community.”
“And they can help each other, because we see them help each other,” she said, noting that often the clients in the shelter tell one another about businesses hiring and job fairs.
Working in the shelter, Ms. Kleimo said she sees — and hears — the changes evident in just a short amount of time when people who want help to get back on their feet have access to it.
“I hear the laughter. In just two or three days, they’re different,” she said.
Jeff Dyer is the pastor of Deep Water Church at 32 W. Loockerman St., Dover, located across the street from the 33 West restaurant and next to Forney’s Too.
Pastor Dyer has several homeless people in his congregation and said he is aware of them traveling through the streets of Dover.
Like many other churches and organizations in the community, Mr. Dyer wanted to give back. Now he does, at Dover Interfaith.
“We have the opportunity from Wawa to get all of their leftover food and we bring it back and heat it up,” Pastor Dyer said. “We used to feed people around town in different places but over time, we developed a partnership with Interfaith and it seemed like a good fit.
“We bring food a couple of times a week. Even if it’s not eaten here, a few of the guys who work overnight will use it for lunch the next day.”
Pastor Dyer said he just couldn’t ignore the homeless issue, especially with a church that is located in the heart of downtown.
“Since we’re a downtown church, we see a lot of homeless people,” he said. “We didn’t really have a grand scheme to work with the homeless, but you can’t help but have compassion.
“The homeless appreciate what you can do for them.”
Anyone can land on the street
There is one over-riding theme when it comes to talking to a homeless person and that is to be careful because homelessness can happen to anybody.
“Anybody can end up in this state of mind,” Mr. Hall said. “All it takes is something happening to a bodily function, your leg or your arm, where you cannot work, or sometimes we run into family problems … anything can happen.”
Once a person finds themselves on the streets it is difficult to escape.
“I’m homeless and I need a job bad,” Mr. Hill said. “Jobs are the number one thing. They don’t look at your job application if you don’t have an address.”
Ms. Ribolla said, “We’ve been putting in applications for the last three weeks every day straight and nobody’s called us yet.”
Mr. Hall tells everyone during his travels to just keep the faith. That’s what keeps him moving.
“Just because you’re homeless today, that doesn’t mean you have to be homeless tomorrow,” he said.
Managing editor Ashley Dawson contributed to this article.
Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at email@example.com.