Delaware homeless face more obstacles in face of virus

Antonio Cintron, 38, of Georgetown, finds himself homeless for the first time in his life.

GEORGETOWN — Antonio Cintron found God in December.

After years of poor choices, the 38-year-old Georgetown man turned his life to church and faith.

Bible study at the Georgetown Presbyterian Church on Bedford Street became a weekly ritual. He filled his nights helping the homeless at the church’s Code Purple shelter. He became an advocate for people down on their luck.

His job as a cook at JD Shuckers in Georgetown allowed him to pay his bills and keep a roof over his head — though he rarely slept at home.

Mr. Cintron looks like a Venetian gondolier, complete with mustache, beard and red beret. He speaks slowly, deliberately with a passion of the newly converted. His passion, since finding faith, is to help other’s walk the same path. He carries his Bible everywhere. Willing to help others wherever they are without judgment, the twinkle of the Gospel never leaves his eyes.

“He was my best volunteer at the shelter this winter,” said Mari Ellyn Hellard, Georgetown site coordinator for Code Purple Sussex County.

COVID-19 has not only tested his faith, but challenged the way he shares his faith with others.

“COVID-19 set down everything,” he said. “I couldn’t pay anything.”

Shuckers laid him off when the restaurant went to just take-out and delivery because of Delaware’s state of emergency restrictions.

Mr. Cintron is now facing the very situation he helped so many others work through.

“Every night I have to figure out where I’m going to stay,” he said,

Most recently his sister’s home has been that place.

Sometimes the weight of homelessness becomes a heavy burden. One that is difficult to bear without the support of Bible study, the A.C.E. Peer Resource Center in Georgetown and his volunteer work at the shelter. All of which have closed or reduced their hours in response to COVID-19. (The A.C.E. center now is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.)

“I got them days,” he said with a crackle in his voice. “This is the first time I’ve found myself homeless.”

When he wakes now, at 8:30-9 a.m., it’s not to rush to work or to volunteer. His first order of business is to check his email on his phone, where he hopes to find that his unemployment has been approved. So far that email hasn’t come.

Mr. Cintron’s situation is different from many others, though. For many of the homeless in Sussex County, COVID-19 has been more of a blessing than a burden, said Ms. Hellard.

“If we had to have a crisis it couldn’t have come at a better time,” she said. “Code Purple ended March 15. The shelters closed.”

Most of the 100 or so homeless people Ms. Hellard works with were struggling to find a safe place to stay when the shelters closed for the season. When a hotel in Georgetown began housing 85 homeless people, there was a sense of relief.

“Otherwise they would be bouncing here or there,” she said. “That’s been a benefit. They had more time indoors.”

That benefit will end May 28, Ms. Hellard said. That’s when she believes the homeless will face more challenge than usual.

“When they get out of there on the 28th, they’re going to be back in the same problems,” she said. “Where do they go during the day? Where do they go to the bathroom?”

As stores, libraries, restaurants and churches have closed to the public or restricted access, the homeless have fewer places to spend their days.

“Resources are getting cut altogether or reduced,” Ms. Hellard said. “This means three more hours on the street. Three more hours without a bathroom.”

This is on top of the challenges of being homeless itself – having to sleep outside, thunderstorms, rain, mosquitoes, she said.

“Staying safe and dry is a challenge,” Ms. Hellard said.

It’s also harder to get out of homelessness.

“People who have housing right now aren’t getting kicked out, making it harder for homeless to find a place to rent,” she said. “There are also no short-term rentals. No Airbnb where they could have stayed for a month. No one is renting. Everyone is freaked out.”

For Mr. Cintron, life is a waiting game. He, like many homeless people, is waiting to see if the restaurants will reopen, waiting to save up enough money to get his own place again, waiting for life to return to normal.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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