Dover mayor puts focus on homelessness

Robin Christiansen

DOVER — Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen has heard personal stories by different individuals about the plight of the 100 or so homeless people living on the city’s streets.

Now, Mayor Christiansen has decided to tackle the homeless situation head-on.

He said it’s the correct and humane thing to do.

The mayor has appointed a 13-member panel to study homelessness in Dover. He’s also put a template in place that has been proven to be successful in finding housing for homeless veterans.

The new panel, which will be chaired by Dr. Jerome Abrams, will meet for the first time on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. in the conference room of Dover’s City Hall.

“One of the most difficult things was getting everybody together,” Mayor Christiansen said about the new panel. “We have gotten a group of folks together that’s going to be a great working group and will help to get this initiative to end homelessness in Dover rolling.

“We hope that in 60 days we will have a report put together with recommendations as to where we should go from there.”

Some items on the agenda for Thursday’s initial meeting are: Listening to goals and seeing the mayor’s timeline, developing a mission/purpose statement and taking their first steps as a panel, such as finding out who does what?

Dr. Abrams said he is looking forward to meeting face-to-face with so many leaders from city and state government, nonprofit organizations, as well as others, to brainstorm several issues.

“This is really going to be an organizational meeting on Thursday,” he said. “Many people might not realize all of the work that is being done to support the homeless right now in many different areas.

“I think a lot of the problem we might be facing is there are many agencies and some might be duplicating what others are doing. We need to identify those efforts and then we can all try to collaborate with the same goal in mind.”

Pastor Aaron Appling of Victory Church in Dover, a strong advocate for the homeless, hopes to see positive things come from the commission.

“I think that any step in that direction (ending homelessness) is a good step,” Pastor Appling said. “I do think everybody needs to look at it as a very basic step and we have to continue to make sure they meet regularly and address some of the issues facing the homeless.

“At least attention is now on the issue and that’s the first step to solving the problem. We’ll be more than happy to assist the panel and commission in any way that we can.”

Becky Martin, director for Code Purple Kent County, is among the members of the Mayor’s Panel on Homelessness in Dover.

“I’m absolutely 200 percent behind this,” Ms. Martin said. “I think honestly that something like this is needed and I was honored to be chosen to be on the panel.

“This is going to be a chance for a lot of good people to provide information and find a way to get on the path to solving the homelessness problem in Dover.”

Template already in place

Mayor Christiansen did suggest to the panel that it should follow the template that was successfully used in the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness and helped house 89 homeless veterans in Dover over a year-and-a-half span.

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

The plan also 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.

Retired Major William Farley, chairman of the Delaware Veteran’s Commission, helped Mayor Christiansen implement his plan to end veteran’s homelessness. He doesn’t see why it won’t work again.

“What we found with the veterans was once we got everybody in same room talking to each other, then the federal programs and everything else could be made to work better,” Maj. Farley said. “This came from face-to-face talking to homeless people.

“I believe the same is true when it comes to state and city housing. They all want to try to help but you have to work your way through all of the red tape before you can find solutions.”

Identifying those in need

Mayor Christiansen said the city needs to put names with the faces so that it can get a true count of those who are homeless in Dover. Advocates estimate the city’s homeless population as around 100.

“We need to start by identifying by names of the people who are out in the street and find out how they came here or are they from here?,” Mayor Christiansen said. “Are they homeless because they’ve experienced hard times, have mental issues, or have faced drug addiction? What has gotten them to this point?

“We need to find solutions together that will help us find rapid, permanent housing for them. Once a person has a home, an address and an identity, then everything else should be able to fall into place.”

Dover City Councilman Brian E. Lewis has been an advocate for homelessness since moving to Dover 12 years ago. He volunteered at the Interfaith Homeless Mission and served on the organization’s board of directors.

He was appointed by the mayor to represent city council members on the blue ribbon panel.

“I don’t have all the answers and hope this new commission through a joint effort can come up with some good suggestions in addressing the homeless issue in Dover,” Mr. Lewis said. “It’s in my heart to help others in need and wish I had more personal resources to assist.

“I try and live by Mother Teresa’s words who once said, ‘Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.’ I hope one day we can all live by these words.”

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

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