Task force: Homelessness in Dover a ‘moving target’

DOVER — The mission of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force to End Homelessness in Dover continued to change shapes and evolve throughout its year-and-a-half tenure.

That’s just the nature of trying to hit a moving target, according to Jeanine Kleimo.

The task force’s tenure came to an end recently after spending more than a year collaborating on how to improve conditions and provide shelter for the estimated 300 to 400 adults in the Dover area who are considered to be homeless.

In the meantime, a new group has emerged — “The Central Delaware Housing Collaborative” — and the fight continues.

Ms. Kleimo, who has served as the chairwoman of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force to End Homelessness in Dover since October 2017, presented the group’s final report and recommendations to Dover City Council inside Council Chambers at City Hall on Tuesday night.

“Unfortunately, we have not concluded that task,” said Ms. Kleimo, of ending homelessness. “I hope (city council does) agree that we have achieved some results and have some recommendations for moving forward.”

Mayor Robin R. Christiansen believes he assembled the perfect team to get the ball rolling.

“We put together a group of people who have a common interest in bringing great talent to this table and to this effort to accomplish what we’re all setting out to do,” the mayor said. “I’m sure that the implementation that this task force is going to bring forward will reflect great efforts and initiative.”

Jeanine Kleimo

Ms. Kleimo worked hand-in-hand with representatives from the city of Dover, Kent County, NCALL, Dover housing shelters, the Delaware State Housing Authority, state agencies, 2-1-1, and others, in trying to find those solutions.

Left with mixed results
The Task Force to End Homelessness, which featured 20 committee members, ended up with mixed results.

“So far, we have put together a map for homeless resources for the city of Dover, which is being distributed through the mayor’s office and a number of venues, including the library, and many agencies in the community,” said Ms. Kleimo, of 1,500 printed, foldable maps that were funded by Levy Court and are being handed out to the homeless.

“We have better communication and coordination among agencies serving the homeless, including a monthly food calendar so that homeless people have access to a hot meal every day, ideally every day of the year.”

However, the theory that homelessness is a moving target was reaffirmed throughout the process and things can change from day to day.

Ms. Kleimo said the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing at 684 Forest St. will be forced to move to another location when its lease expires in two years, which puts even more pressure on the daily battle. She said Interfaith routinely supports around 120 homeless men at its Resource Center in Dover every day.

The report also said that due to the implementation of Dover’s fire code, Whatcoat Shelter at People’s Place and the Dover Interfaith shelter have seen a reduction in available beds. Whatcoat has been reduced to 26 beds from 48 and Dover Interfaith now has 34 instead of 36.

Those changes resulted in the inability of both shelters to take in additional people in need of shelter and contributed to pressure on Code Purple Kent

County last winter. In the longer term, it was agreed that more shelter space is required to meet local demand.

Rise of the collaborative
Ms. Kleimo said that’s why the task force chose to create a nonprofit organization called “The Central Delaware Housing Collaborative,” which seeks to create more affordable housing opportunities that can benefit homeless and economically struggling residents of Dover.

“The collaborative has leased two houses in the Restoring Central Dover area and rents rooms,” she said. “It’s in the process of purchasing the property at 801 West Division Street, which formerly was the Aid in Dover Youth Shelter, and we’ve secured a transferable Delaware State Housing Authority forgivable loan for the next several years along with a $150,000 grant from the Longwood Foundation.

“This will help to complete some of the renovations on that property along with some other grants that we’ve applied for. This will create a shelter for homeless women, which is lacking in the city.”

Ms. Kleimo said there is a working committee that’s begun to look for a new location for Dover Interfaith, including a couple of people involved with the Downtown Dover Partnership in looking at some other options, as well as talking to realtors.

She said the lack of affordable housing will have to eventually be addressed if Dover is serious about getting rid of its homeless problem.

“For future action, on the part of the (housing) collaborative or others in the city who might participate with us, are creating more shelter space and securing a new site for the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, which is losing its lease, creating more highly affordable housing that’s available to those earning the minimum wage or earning disability income, along with those with physical and mental limitations or prior incarceration,” said Ms. Kleimo.

“We’d like to ensure there is case management for all persons moving into housing created in order to maintain their stability. We’d like to see the creation of an emergency housing plan for the city for homeless persons living without shelter.”

So, while more questions than answers might have popped up during the task force’s studies, its members remain committed to helping find a solution to homelessness in Dover.

“I think the report was great and I’m glad that we’re at this point and I believe the city and the council will take a good look at it, take a lot of it into consideration and make some good moves with it,” said Sue Harris, co-founder of Port of Hope Delaware Inc., a nonprofit agency that support housing for the homeless.

Ms. Harris said she expects plans for Tiny Houses, which are scaled-down communities for the homeless, will be addressed when the city of Dover releases its comprehensive plan in the coming months.

The task force report also said in a positive note that homeless individuals have been getting more cooperation for treatment at Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus in Dover.

Kleimo, councilman spar
Ms. Kleimo finished her report by looking back at what she sees as a missed opportunity for Dover Interfaith and the homeless population when it passed on taking over the vacated Frear building in 2011. The building eventually became home to Wesley College’s nursing program.

The 36,000-square-foot Frear building, at the corner of North and New streets in Dover, used to be the regional headquarters for the Social Security Administration and housed the local offices of Delaware’s congressional delegation.

“I’d also like to point out one item of recent history, which is that shelter providers, including the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, are given the right of first refusal when a federal property becomes available,” Ms. Kleimo said at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing pursued this when the Frear federal building became available some years back, but we basically went with the public pressure to allow this building to go to Wesley College for the nursing school.

“The sentiment at that time, or the informal promises, were that there would be a provision for the needs of the homeless later. Now, it’s that later time.”

City Councilman Tanner Polce, an alumnus of Wesley College, said he was surprised that Ms. Kleimo chose to bring up the issue of the Frear building.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t clarify that I don’t believe it was council’s statement nor obligation to horse trade an economic development opportunity with Wesley College,” Councilman Polce said. “In fact, it brings me a bit of frustration to know there are members of the community that still believe that we cannot do both simultaneously — that we can’t create economic opportunity for the residents of Dover while also tackling critical public health needs and addressing homelessness.

“It’s frustrating to me that we can’t have those conversations and still remain linear, objective and goal-oriented.”

It’s just part of the complex issue that is homelessness, one that many continue to grapple with.

“The homeless population is, in itself, a moving target,” Ms. Kleimo said. “It’s not like these 82 people over here are the homeless population … it’s not that simple.

“I’d also like to note that many consider or emphasize the cost of developing shelter space and affordable housing for the homeless, I would like this council to consider the cost of not doing so. There are real costs to having unsheltered homeless people in our community.”

Task Force on Homelessness recommendations

  1. Create more shelter space sufficient to meet the demand for men, women, and children. One step is to develop a new shelter for men for the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing along with a daytime Resource Center due to the loss of their lease in two years’ time.
  2. Develop more highly affordable supportive housing that includes housing for families as well as shared housing for single adults.
  3. Include case management for all residents of shelters and supportive housing.
  4. Develop an Emergency Housing Plan for homeless persons in bad weather, incorporating involvement from City, County, and DEMA officials.
  5. Encourage interaction and sharing information about initiatives and concerns with local and state officials and with corporate leadership in order to inform them and to elicit support.
  6. Pursue opportunities available through Innovative Readiness Training.
  7. Continue to support established initiatives, including Dover map of homeless services, monthly meal calendar, and efforts of Central Delaware Housing Collaborative.
  8. Pursue continued cooperation with Bayhealth to expand health care and health education to the homeless.
  9. Increase community volunteers in order to extend hours of daytime resources such as Dover Interfaith Resource Center and Hopes&Dreams along with community outreach.
  10. Explore ways that Task Force and Collaborative initiatives might be promoted more effectively through Central Delaware events, websites, social media, and press coverage.
  11. Seek to assure city and county compliance with the Fair Housing Act in zoning and code enforcement.
  12. Explore sources of funding for a revolving fund or other mechanisms to finance housing development and leasing to benefit homeless individuals and families.
  13. Investigate creative housing options to meet the needs and financial capacity of the homeless, including tiny houses, innovative construction techniques, and other housing alternatives.
  • Adopted unanimously by the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness at its meeting of May 8.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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