DelDOT did not act toward homeless in ‘sensitive way,’ secretary says

DOVER — Department of Transportation employees did not act as they should have in displacing a group of homeless individuals earlier this month, Secretary Jennifer Cohan said in a statement.

According to DelDOT, the agency worked with the city of Dover on May 4 to clear a homeless campsite below the Douglas L. Harris Bridge. The bridge is located on U.S. 13, crossing the St. Jones River.

Some homeless people staying under the bridge did not have a chance to retrieve their possessions, including identification and clothing.

Jennifer Cohan

Jennifer Cohan

“The work — which was conducted with the participation of local law enforcement and state environ-mental officials — was necessary because maintenance had to be performed on the structure,” Ms. Cohan said. “The city requested DelDOT’s assistance as the Fire Marshal’s Office had many concerns regarding multiple set fires in the area over the last six months, resulting in Dover Fire Department having to respond 11 times.

“The cleanup resulted in the removal of trash, drug paraphernalia as well as some personal belongings of people that had been living beneath the bridge. Those individuals that were present during the 8:30 a.m. removal were able to collect their belongings.

“In reviewing the situation, it is evident to me that DelDOT did not conduct the necessary removal in a sensitive way. Although life safety issues needed to be addressed, the department should have engaged with those who are experts in dealing with homeless populations prior to taking action.”

In the future, DelDOT will work with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Crisis Intervention Unit and the Projects in Assistance for Transition from Homeless program, Ms. Cohan said.

Homeless-advocate Cathi Kopera, who works to assist ex-criminals transitioning back into society, said many of the homeless individuals who lost their possessions were frightened by the incident.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware is looking into the occurrence.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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