City of Dover and Code Purple resolve code enforcement issues

 

DOVER — The City of Dover appears to have found a solution to the issues that limited Code Purple’s effectiveness in the winter and infuriated many homeless individuals and advocates.

City Council President Timothy Slavin announced before Monday’s council meeting that the shelters, which provide temporary housing for people in need in cold weather, will be “open for business throughout the city” once freezing temperatures arrive in a few months.

“I think the solution is going to be that each of the churches have declared themselves, according to Code Purple, they’ve declared themselves to be sanctuaries, which offers them protection against some of the zoning that we would have to do.

“So, they’ve exempted themselves from that process and this allows them to open and regulate themselves, kind of self-inspect,” Mr. Slavin said after the meeting.

Over the past year, Dover and Code Purple have wrestled over city code. Several facilities had been found to be violating the fire code by operating as shelters without the required fire suppression sprinkler systems.

The churches cannot afford to install them, however, and the shelters had to house fewer people because they were instructed to reduce their population per square foot.

Housing was the central issue Monday, with a dozen individuals speaking to councilmembers during the public comment forum preceding the meeting. Attendees, many of whom are or were living on the streets, questioned what is being done to help people in need.

Elizabeth Jones asked what the homeless can do in freezing weather when Code Purple shelters are full, noting “they don’t have blankets, they don’t have the proper clothing that they’re supposed to have.”

Other speakers blasted city officials, complaining they feel council members and other decision-makers do not care about the homeless.

Mr. Slavin rejected that categorization, pointing to several actions city officials have taken or plan to do, such as Mayor Robin Christiansen’s commission to combat homelessness. The group has issued recommendations.

A previous effort led by the mayor helped the city, according to officials, end homelessness among military veterans.

One of the answers, Mr. Slavin said, is helping individuals obtain affordable housing. On that subject, NCALL, a group that focuses on home ownership, made a presentation to City Council Monday.

Joe Myer, the nonprofit’s executive director, urged council members to take additional steps to fight blight — homes that sit vacant, often attracting crime, lowering property values of nearby houses and scaring businesses away.

“The number and density of blighted properties may well be Dover’s greatest challenge,” Mr. Myer said.

According to NCALL, downtown Dover has 58 vacant properties. Of those, 14 apiece sit on Kirkwood and Queen streets.

Mr. Myer recommended Dover begin enforcing the code more, upping the penalties for owners of vacant properties and tearing down structures that are too run-down to be refurbished.

NCALL was given $1 million from the Delaware State Housing Authority in February, but blight issues are preventing it from fully utilizing that money to build new homes, Mr. Myer told the council.

“We cannot build a quality new home next a boarded-up home and expect it to sell and we cannot expect a family to prosper in that home,” he said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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