Dover mayor gets wheels rolling on homeless plan

Aaron Appling, pastor of Victory Church in Dover, speaks to the homeless and their advocates before addressing Dover City Council in late August. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen recognizes that fighting chronic homelessness is a moving target.

That’s why he is hoping the template that he and his team used in finding permanent housing for 89 homeless veterans over the past year-and-a-half in Dover is one that will work equally as well in securing homes for the civilian population who are homeless.

Mayor Christiansen said he has recently begun to assemble another team to fight the city’s chronic homeless issue.

“The goal of this Blue Ribbon commission will be to determine who the homeless are,” he said. “Just as in the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness we identified veterans by name. We will identify the homeless by name, where they are from, and how did they become homeless in their situation?

“Secondly, what we have done right as a community to address the issue of chronic homelessness – not as a government entity, but as a community – of establishing shelters, churches, and fraternal organizations and individuals.”

Mayor Christiansen added, “Additionally, the commission will be asked to determine how as a community we can do better including combined efforts to end the issue of chronic homelessness such as implementing the template established by the Mayor’s Challenge to end chronic homelessness amongst veterans and veterans’ families.”

Mayor Robin Christiansen

Mayor Robin Christiansen

That template included a working group that included state and federal agencies, nonprofit providers and veteran’s service agencies that developed a plan to address the problem.

The plan included identifying veterans who are currently homeless or at a high risk of homelessness, improving connections and coordination between veteran-specific and mainstream resources for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

In addition, those veterans who were at risk of becoming homeless were quickly identified and provided with appropriate resources to prevent them from experiencing homelessness.

Mr. Christiansen said it is all a matter of getting different agencies to work in concert with one another to achieve a greater goal. He doesn’t see why the plan that worked to avert veterans’ homelessness can’t also work to prevent the same for civilians.

“(We need) a plan which puts in place rapid, permanent housing, not temporary housing, and contact with those who are homeless with the appropriate agencies both state and federal to provide services which are not part of the city’s mission,” the mayor said.

“Finally, I will ask this commission to make recommendations to state and federal authorities on how our model that we used to end veterans’ homelessness here in the city or address those issues can be used to address this important issue.”

Pastor Aaron Appling, of Dover’s Victory Church, has been a strong advocate for the city’s homeless. They have attended every City Council meeting since the summer and regularly speak out in the public forum.

“This is about reality. It’s a real problem,” Pastor Appling said, of a city’s homeless population that he says is probably more than 100 individuals. “This country was founded by people showing up at places and meetings such as this (city council meetings).

“We’re just showing up with homeless men and women from the city along with other members of the community just to raise the issue of homelessness that’s happening right now and try to get some solution. We’re just bringing it to them to ask for help peacefully and in the right forum where the public’s allowed to speak.”

Mr. Christiansen said he also wants to get the homeless off the streets and the template used to find veterans homes should work just was well for civilians.

At a Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 11 at the Delaware Memorial Bridge, Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Tom Carper and Gov. Jack Markell announced that Delaware was the third state to complete their initiative of trying to end veterans’ homelessness.

“The initiative during the course of the last 18 months identified 489 (homeless) veterans and 415 veterans were successfully housed,” Mayor Christiansen said. “The misnomer that veterans’ homelessness in the state of Delaware or across our country has ended is not really the case. The battle continues on.”

Mayor Christiansen, Bill Farley, the chairman of the Commission of Veterans Affairs, and Dover Police Chief Paul Bernat traveled to the White House on Nov. 14 and were recognized for their roles in the Mayor’s Challenge to end Veterans’ Homelessness.

“We did that here in Dover by putting together a conglomeration of our citizens who worked tirelessly over the last 18 months to successfully house 89 veterans, but let me make it very clear, the battle continues on,” said Mayor Christiansen.

“Along those lines I would like to take the liberty of announcing that I will be appointing over the next few days a number of our citizens to address the issue of chronic homelessness amongst our civilian population, including a member of (city) council, who has agreed to serve.”

Pastor Appling insists that the homeless need help now, especially with the recent drop in temperatures.

“We want help,” he said. “The local government really hasn’t been helping us in a proper way. They’ve been more of a block or a wall to us than they have as a help.

“The county isn’t helping us as well. In the city, there’s plenty of property and abandoned houses and plenty of resources as well. The shelters aren’t enough, the other organizations aren’t enough … we need more help.”

Mayor Christiansen said he hears their calls and is doing his best to put the wheels in motion to help them get off the streets.

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