Code Purple aids the homeless during bitter cold

DOVER — The brief sneak peek of snow falling in the city of Dover on Tuesday afternoon might have been exciting for some people.

But for the homeless population it signaled freezing and life-threatening conditions had arrived.

Sanctuaries for Code Purple Kent County usually open their doors to the homeless when the temperature plummets to 32 degrees or below from Dec. 1 until March 31.

However, when Ennio Emmanuel — the new director for Code Purple Kent County — saw that it was supposed to be a frigid 22 degrees with wind gusts as high as 32 mph overnight Tuesday there was no question in his mind — the Maranatha Life Changing Church at 1235 E. Division Street in Dover would open its sanctuary early Tuesday evening for women and children to stay overnight and eat a hot breakfast this morning.

“Pretty much Code Purple’s standpoint is when a sanctuary, whether it is Christian or Muslim or whatever it might be, choose to work with us the sanctuary gets to decide what is an emergency for them to open up,” Mr. Emmanuel said.

“So, Maranatha Life Changing Church has viewed women and children being out in the cold during wintertime, no matter if it’s 35 degrees, 32 or 41, they’ve viewed every day to be an emergency, so they’re going to be open every day.

“The same is true with Centennial United Methodist (at 44 East Mount Vernon Street) in Smyrna.

“Their board viewed every night of it being in the wintertime from November 15th to the end of March as an emergency for men, so they’ll be opening up.

“The other sites will be opening up if it’s 32 degrees or below (starting in December).”

The other sites for Code Purple Kent County include People’s Church at 46 South Bradford Street in Dover, Presbyterian Church of Dover at 54 South State Street in Dover and Wyoming United Methodist Church at 216 Wyoming Mill Road in Dover. All three of those sites are for homeless men.

Mr. Emmanuel was expecting 22 women and children to fill the sanctuary at Maranatha Life Changing Church on Tuesday night.
He couldn’t believe more was not being done to take care of the estimated 300 to 400 or so homeless people scattered around the greater Dover area.

“We worry a lot about if our milk will spoil or if we can’t pay our bills maybe the gas will go out or the electric will go out and our refrigerator will turn off,” Mr. Emmanuel said. “As human beings, if we’re worried about milk spoiling then we also have to worry about people spoiling out in this horrible weather.

“Put yourself in that refrigerator and hang out for about an hour and let me know how you feel and that’s how people are living right now in our own city and our own backyard in a state that’s so small, no one should be homeless and no one should be jobless.”

Becky Martin retired as director of Code Purple Kent County last summer, but she is still on the organization’s board. She has empathy for what Mr. Emmanuel is going through.

She said Code Purple Kent County served more than 3,700 homeless people from last December through March. It was open a total of 117 nights last season.

“Why is it that is always the same churches stepping up and the same volunteers?” Mrs. Martin said. “Why is it the responsibility for a few to scramble during emergency weather to find food and a location for people in need? Our hearts and mission are to help those in need, but isn’t that the same mission as other religious facilities?

“Also, where does the responsibility fall on the shoulders of the city (of Dover)? Collecting tax for motels and not knowing where to use the monies? How about food and emergency locations in bad weather? We have begged, pleaded and fought for help. The churches and volunteers who worked so many hours last year weren’t even recognized by the city for their time and care they gave.”

Jeanine Kleimo, chair at the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, thinks Mr. Emmanuel might just be the spark that will be able to finally get help for the city’s homeless population.

“I’m so happy that he is the new (Code Purple) director,” Ms. Kleimo said. “I think that it’s wonderful that this church community has jumped in and that Ennio is working to coordinate it all and pull a lot of people together. We need a fresh face, a young man with new ideas and his enthusiasm is contagious.”

Mrs. Martin just wishes city officials would step up to help the homeless problem rather than what she describes as forming committee after committee to discuss it.

“This is horrible weather that could cause lives to be lost,” she said. “I feel the city can also step up and make something available.”

Important resource

It is estimated that between 300 and 400 adults in the Greater Dover area are homeless, including those residing in shelters, in tents, in Code Purple sanctuaries and moving from space in the home of one friend to another.

Code Purple is a statewide project that helps people who are homeless find a place of shelter when weather conditions become too dangerous for individuals or families to remain outside.

So, when the temperatures reach 32 degrees or below, the sanctuaries will turn on purple-colored lights outside to let the public know they are open.

The Code Purple sanctuaries are important because not all homeless persons choose to live in housing.

This will be the sixth year of Code Purple in Kent County. Three years ago, the program hosted an average of around 80 people each night a Code Purple was issued, according to Mrs. Martin.

Mr. Emmanuel stressed the most important thing a person can donate to Code Purple Kent County right now is time – volunteers willing to watch over one of the shelters overnight.

The nonprofit organization also needs food, anything from breakfasts to dinners to snack foods.

For more information on making donations or volunteering for Code Purple Kent County, call 302-339-0123 or 302-270-2177, or visit its website at www.codepurplekentcounty.com.

If there’s one thing Mr. Emmanuel feels bad about it’s the lack of resources for men in the Dover area as temperatures plummeted on Tuesday.

“Right now, the way we’re going to try to fill in this (void for men) is to offer tents, blankets and sleeping bags for them to use,” he said. “We’ll have winter jackets for the men.”

Mrs. Martin and Kent County Levy Court Commissioner Allan Angel founded Code Purple Kent County. It wasn’t a hard decision for them to make.

“You open up your arms, and you don’t just turn your back on them,” Mrs. Martin said, of the homeless. “They’re human beings. I’m very strong on that.”

Getting a meal at Maranatha Church.

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

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