Dover Interfaith searching for new home for the homeless

This property, at 1151 Walker Road, is one of three that is currently being considered as the future home for the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing. (Delaware State News/Submitted photo)

DOVER — The Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing’s lease at its property at 684 Forest St. is scheduled to run out in 2020, which has city of Dover officials and members of the Downtown Dover Partnership keeping their collective eyes open to help find a new home for the nonprofit organization.

The Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing serves as a shelter and transitional home for homeless men. It serves around 36 men year-round and has helped more than 1,000 since the program’s inception in 2008, with more than 700 of them obtaining permanent employment in the community.

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said it’s a priority for the city to help find a new home for the organization, currently located at the intersection of Forest Street and Railroad Avenue in a building owned by the DDP.

The mayor said there have been serious discussions in bringing a light industrial company to the current site of DIMH, which would bring jobs to the downtown area.

“I think it’s really important for us to continue to work with Interfaith to continue their mission of helping the homeless move to permanent housing and jobs and just to be taken off the street and deal with the issues that they have to deal with,” Mayor Christiansen said. “I think we have a responsibility to participate in their relocation effort because we, as the Downtown Partnership and the city of Dover, granted them a lease for the initial property.

“I think it’s only fair for us to help find them a new place. Their lease ends in 2020, but there are provisions for it to be extended for a year. At this point we’d really like to have something in place and the sooner the better – so all parties know what’s going to happen.”

Mike Harrington, a board member of the DDP, said DIMH has identified three possible sites for relocation.

“I think we all recognize the fact that the lease is running out and we’re trying to do everything we can to relocate it,” Mr. Harrington said. “The highlights of what the committee is looking at is one (property) at 630 West Division Street that’s quite a large property that is owned by Crossroads Christian Church. It’s probably too much property for them and it’s probably not the best location (downtown), so they’re not looking at that very much.

“The other two locations are on Walker Road. One is the (former) St. John’s Lutheran School, which is vacant and a very large 6,000 square foot building. Across the street is the Everett Building, at 1151 Walker Road. We have prices on both of those buildings, and we have offered, but we haven’t signed the offer.”

Mr. Harrington said Dover Interfaith is now contracting, with terms contingent upon achieving financing needed to obtain the property(ies).

There was concern expressed at last Wednesday’s DDP board meeting that there may be issues with a daycare located next to one of the properties, but it is unclear whether the daycare (possibly affiliated with St. John’s Lutheran School) is still in operation. Some of the homeless men are on sex offender lists and sex offender laws prevent them from being at or near a youth or school facility.

“We have paperwork that says there was legislation passed that daycares are exempt,” said Mr. Harrington. “We were shying away from that, but the Everett Building is 500 feet away and across the street and that’s OK.

“I haven’t seen it in writing — that there is an exemption for daycares. Obviously, if there is a restriction, then that would restrict it.”

The positives with the two proposed sites off Walker Road are that ancillary services could be located near the locations, which could help move the homeless population away from the downtown area.

Todd Stonesifer asked Mr. Harrington if they have looked outside of the city for a possible new location.

“If we expand the footprint of where we’re looking, we might find more possibilities that might be more cost effective,” Mr. Stonesifer said.

Mr. Harrington replied that it would be difficult to move the men outside of the city because they need transportation to get to jobs and services.

“We’ve not looked outside the city of Dover,” Mr. Harrington said. “The Interfaith Mission group has purchased some properties outside of the city of Dover, down near Felton. They purchased an abandoned hotel down there and it seems to be working rather well.

“But being sympathetic to the people that occupy (DIMH), they need to have transportation to get food and things like that.”

That is a big concern, considering the volunteer organization is made up of more than 1,000 volunteers who serve 12,000 meals per year at no cost.

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