Code Purple: Homeless welcomed in from cold in Kent County

DOVER — Kent County got a pass from the snow, but not from the cold.

Code Purple locations continue to remain open to help homeless persons in need of a warm shelter.

The shelters are open when temperatures and wind chills reach 25 degrees or below.

Code Purple light at city hall in Dover is a beacon of help for homeless. Photo by Arshon Howard/Delaware State  News

Code Purple light at city hall in Dover is a beacon of help for homeless. Photo by Arshon Howard/Delaware State News

Code Purple’s warning has been in effect since Jan. 23 and will remain that way until Jan.31, but Rebecca Martin, Code Purple Kent County director, said it might last longer.

“The way the forecast is looking now it might last until the first week of February,” Ms. Martin said.

The program started a year ago in Kent County and has continued to grow each day, Ms. Martin said.

“The staff and shelters have been outstanding,” Ms. Martin said. “We’ve been up for three weeks straight every day and night. People are still providing donations. It’s just been overwhelming.
Shelters are also available in New Castle and Sussex counties

“We just recently opened up some shelters in Milford and if we’re able to have some in Smyrna we’ll have all of the main cities in Kent County,” Ms. Martin said.

There is now a traffic light signal in front of City Hall that turns purple when a Code Purple is in effect.

“We installed it around November,” Mayor Robin Christiansen said. “We had talks with them as to how we could help and so we got together and put that up to make everyone aware when a Code Purple is in effect.”

Ms. Martin hopes other businesses downtown will get involved as well.

“Maybe they can have lights they can switch on when a Code Purple is in effect,” Ms. Martin said. “I know the Capital School District shine a purple light in their window. We just want everyone to help participate to help these people out.”

The snow which was predicted to be the season’s worst didn’t exactly turn out that way, but Ms. Martin said the organization was well prepared.

“We started preparing meals during the weekend prior because we don’t know how bad the storm was going to be,” Ms. Martin said. “For each shelter we wanted to make sure that we had enough to last for three to four days. We wanted to make sure we were prepared for anything.”

Unlike a full-time shelter, guests cannot be denied based on drug or alcohol use but judgment can be made by each shelter operator and its staff if an individual might pose a threat to themselves or others.

“Combined, we had about 60 people come in to try and stay warm during the storm,” Ms. Martin said. “There are people that didn’t want to come in, but Code Purple members went out and gave them blankets and tried to help them out as much as they could.”

It is purely a volunteer effort that keeps the organization running, so parishioners and members of the community play a vital role in accommodating people seeking the shelters’ services.

Dinner and breakfast come with stays at Code Purple sanctuaries, along with “Blessing Bags” including food, gloves and hats, among other items, distributed on departure.

Jack McGlothin and Justino Melendez, known as the “Dynamic Duo,” help package the food.

“We wake up and we’re at it until we’re sleep,” Mr. Melendez said. “We’ve been doing this since November.”
Mr. McGlothin said the duo prepares the food at a drop of a dime.

“Sometimes we prepare the food ahead of time or cook food for churches at the different shelters. We may make chilly or soup in a crock pot and deliver it to them,” Mr McGlothin said.

The food comes from donations, said Ms. Martin. Both frozen and perishable items are stored at the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing.

“We are very well stocked,” Ms. Martin said. “We have plenty of food. Right now, we’re having an issue with breakfast food, but we’re reaching out to the community and, hopefully, people will continue to help us out.”

Both Mr. McGlothin and Mr. Melendez are excited to see the continuous growth of the organization. They hope to help out as much as they can for as long as they’re able to.

“We do it because it’s in our hearts to do it,” Mr. Melendez said. “We appreciate what this place has done for us.

“In the past, living high off the hog, I treated people like this and this environment like bums. But living here I’ve learned that life is a chance and you are either in a hill or in a valley — and this is our valley.”

Anyone seeking information can call a toll free line at (800) 733-6816, Code Purple officials said. Shelters are open from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m.

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