Dover officials procure restrooms for homeless

DOVER — The homeless who walk the streets of Dover now have a couple of options with which to use the restroom and get cleaned up.

Those had previously been difficult propositions for the homeless population — estimated to be more than 300 in the greater Dover area — ever since the Dover Public Library had to be closed for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus pandemic.

City of Dover leadership has made arrangements for portable toilets — complete with sinks — to be installed at the Dover Transit Center, located along the south side of West Water Street between South West Street and South Queen Street, and the Hopes and Dreams Resource Center at 621 W. Division St.

Kay Sass, director of public affairs and emergency management for Dover, said it took a team effort from city officials to make it happen, since there is currently a lack of funding for such projects.

“Since we couldn’t get any additional funding for (portable restrooms) the city manager (Donna Mitchell) still approved my request so we could move forward with ordering them,” Ms. Sass said. “Our facilities director went ahead and contacted somebody off the state vendor list that had availability, even though our choices were pretty slim at this point.

“So, we were able to secure a company out of Bear who is making the delivery now (Thursday).”

The news was music to the ears of Ennio Emmanuel, director of Kent County Code Purple, who has been trying to tell anybody who would listen that the homeless have had no place to go to use the restroom.

“After reaching out to the city we finally have some results,” Mr. Emmanuel said. “We are thankful that they are installing these bathrooms. We are thankful that the homeless population has a place to go now when they are walking to their doctor or coming off the bus at the transit center.

“We are trying to get more through community partnerships because there probably should be about 8 to 12 portable restrooms around town. The city manager has been instrumental in helping us get things done, as well as turning on the purple light (in front of City Hall to let the homeless know when Code Purple facilities are open).

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said he thinks city leadership is often unfairly criticized by how it is dealing with the issue of homelessness in the city.

“The city has been viewed as not being compassionate to the plight of the homeless,” Mayor Christiansen said. “There is nothing farther from the truth. The mayor and council of the city of Dover as a group and as individuals have worked to address the plight of those less fortunate than many of their fellow citizens.

“However, the city doesn’t have the resources or revenues or authority to always deal with these issues. However, we were able to provide this service based on the efforts of City Manager Donna Mitchell and Emergency Operations Director Kay Sass and some discretionary funds from the Mayor’s Office.”

The port-a-potties did not have to receive approval by Dover City Council, as City Manager Ms. Mitchell ultimately made the call.

“Donna (Mitchell), through a declaration, she has the authority anyway to be able to authorize these,” Ms. Sass said, of the portable restrooms. “The mayor had sent requests to Kent County and (Delaware Department of Transportation) Secretary (Jennifer) Cohan asking for permission if we could set one on various properties and Secretary Cohan responded within a minute — she was very quick and she said, ‘Absolutely you can use the transit center.’”

Things didn’t start out with such ease in procuring the restrooms.

“I contacted (Kent) County and the county submitted a request on behalf of the city through DEMA,” said Ms. Sass. “We got the response back that there was no funding for it, but if we wanted to do it, they would help us locate a vendor.

“We were hoping for some help with funding because it’s costing our city right now for continuity of government and we want to keep providing the services that we are with so many staff working from various locations.”

In the end, Ms. Mitchell and other city leaders made it happen. The Bear vendor will be managing upkeep of the port-a-potties three times per week.

“It’s the best sanitary solution all around,” said Ms. Sass. “We were sensitive to that and it was a matter of getting everything in order in order to get it done. We will have one (restroom) at the transit center, located away from folks, and another at Hopes and Dreams on the left side of the property near the back. This will allow privacy for (the homeless) as well.

“At least we’ve got something in the works. It was a group effort with all of us trying to find a resolution, which we were able to accomplish.”