Facing fines, Dover church says it’s trying to help homeless

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DOVER — Kent County Levy Court may begin fining Victory Church $100 or more a day if a household camper remains on the premises.

The Rev. Aaron Appling, pastor Victory Church, is committed to assisting a blind, pregnant young mother with lupus until she finds a permanent residence.

At this point, 21-year-old Alexis Simms exists in an RV parked behind Victory Church, along with her 2 1/2-year-old daughter and mother. The Rev. Appling says it was purchased for $10,500 and the homeless family moved in on Sept. 30.

On Tuesday, the Rev. Appling arrived at the church at 2736 Forest Ave. in Dover and received notice from the county via a sign staked into the ground — the camper with its residents was violating Kent County’s zoning code.

A commercial campground is permitted as conditional use, requiring a site plan in the AR Zoning District, Levy Court spokesman Kia Evans said.

Ms. Evans said “the county planning office met at the site and discussed various options for moving forward with the campground and possibly a group home.”

Levy Court says it’s open to working with the church to meet required standards, but county codes are in place for all.

“The purpose of the approvals is to ensure that the health and safety of occupants of the campground, neighbors and the public at large, is covered,” Ms. Evans said.

If the case is litigated, fines assessed under county code are administered by the state Justice of the Peace Court system.

“As a general rule, the county does not immediately pursue litigation,” Ms. Evans said. “Rather, the goal from our standpoint is compliance.”

According to the Rev. Appling, paying for the process of zoning into campground eligible is not an option for the church.

“We plan to appeal, which gives us some time,” the Rev. Appling said. “I’m not going to pay any fines and I as a pastor and church believe that.”

The pastor says the church can’t pay for the process of obtaining a conditional use permit, which he says has a tab of at least $100,000 to procure through engineering requirements, attorney fees and more.

According to Victory Church, not allowing a family in need to stay violates its most sacred values of helping the needy.

“Constitutionally, they don’t have a right to harass the church about having a camper or doing what the Christian faith has always done — to take care of the poor,” the Rev. Appling said. “We feel as a church they’re economically repressing our religious freedoms.

“It’s not a criminal law. If we are breaking the law, we’re not endangering people, we’re helping people.”

Victory Church claims it was surprised by the recent county notification, though Levy Court indicated otherwise.

Alexis Simms, right, with her daughter Sarai, 1, and her mother Francis are staying in a camper on the grounds of Victory Church, west of Dover. According to Victory Church, not allowing a family in need to stay violates its most sacred values of helping the needy.

Alexis Simms, right, with her daughter Sarai, 1, and her mother Francis are staying in a camper on the grounds of Victory Church, west of Dover. According to Victory Church, not allowing a family in need to stay violates its most sacred values of helping the needy.

“They never came and asked us,” the Rev. Appling said. “They have an ongoing situation where we’re doing a civil service for someone who they can’t provide for and they threaten us with fines and sanctions.”

According to Ms. Evans, “The question of creating a commercial recreational campground was raised several months ago and time was given to the property owners to consider the paths available in working to create this.”

Ms. Simms and Victory Church claimed they have appealed to state, county and city agencies to no avail, leaving them where they are.

“It’s ridiculous,” Alexis Simms said “They don’t want to help but they are fining the ones that are. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Last summer, Victory Church explored the possibility of creating a village of tiny homes to assist those lacking in a permanent residence, which met with resistance from the county due to code requirements.

According to Victory Church, hosting the Simms family is only a temporary assist.

“We’re not a shelter and not built for it but our objective is to find them a solution so they can go out and be independent,” the Rev. Appling said.

With another child due in November, Ms. Simms is dealing with more stress by the day, she said.

“I just want to make sure me and my family have a place,” she said. “That’s all I want, a place for us to be to be comfortable.”

Alexis’s mother Francis has stayed with her daughter and granddaughter for the past two years after she began to lose her eyesight, returning to Delaware from New York City.

“I just kind of do it day by day,” she said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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