Homeless community speaks out in front of city council

Pastor Aaron Appling, of Victory Church in Dover, speaks to homeless people and their advocates before going into City Hall on Monday night. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

Pastor Aaron Appling, of Victory Church in Dover, speaks to homeless people and their advocates before going into City Hall on Monday night. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — If any of the members of Dover’s city council weren’t aware of the number of homeless people scattered throughout the city, they certainly got an eye-opener on Monday night.

Aaron Appling, pastor of Victory Church in Dover, and Port Hope Delaware Inc. brought around 100 homeless people and advocates to the city council meeting at City Hall as four people spoke about homelessness during the open forum prior to the meeting.

“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,” Pastor Appling said. “We’re just bringing it to them to ask for help peacefully and in the right forum where the public’s allowed to speak.”

Members of city council listened to the speakers but were prohibited from taking any action since they weren’t in official session. However, they may schedule such items as regular agenda items and act upon them in the future.

Pastor Appling and Port Hope Delaware Inc. have been advocates of building the “Village of Victory,” a tiny house development that would provide shelter for 15 homeless people on Victory Church’s property at 2736 Forrest Ave.

The proposed tiny house village has drawn opposition from some members of nearby neighborhoods.

If they’re unable to build the tiny houses then they said they are open to other ways to help the homeless population, estimated to be around 100 in Dover. They just want to begin an open dialogue with city leaders.

“The main thing we’re trying to accomplish is to just raise a little awareness and just kind of wake [city leaders] up to the problem and that it might be bigger than what they might think it is,” said Sue Harris, of Port Hope Delaware.

It appears as if right now the biggest hurdle for the tiny houses would lie with receiving approval from Kent County Levy Court, but Mr. Appling said he wanted to let the city know of the hurdles the homeless face, as well.

Members of Port Hope Delaware, Victory Church and others camped out on the corner of Division and State streets for six days in July, holding signs and waving at passing cars.

However, Mr. Appling said that none of the highest ranking Dover city officials offered to come by to talk to the group and discuss their issues with them.

“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.”

The Continuum of Care lead agency for Delaware and the Homeless Planning Council conducted a Point in Time (PIT) Count, a one-night count of homeless people throughout the state, the night of Jan. 27, 2016.

A total of 1,070 people were found to be homeless in Delaware that night.

The count included adults and children sleeping in emergency shelters, weather-related shelters (such as Code Purple sanctuaries), domestic violence shelters, transitional housing programs, on the streets and other places not meant for human habitation.

Darryl Wilson, a Philadelphia native who has lived in Dover for the past 15 years, said he was once homeless but managed to overcome his dire situation that happened after he separated from his wife and family, became unemployed and addicted to drugs.

Mr. Wilson said he would like to see other members of the homeless community get the same chance as he did. He believes the tiny homes will allow people to get another chance.

“The best part about it is I have a place of my own now, some place to call home,” Mr. Wilson said. “I really feel like the tiny homes is one of the kinds of things that builds up character in people.

“I believe that when a person has their own place and their own home that they’ll have an opportunity to start wanting to build more for themselves.”

Jason Hess, a homeless man from Dover, said he has an easy solution to the problem.

“Let’s have congress have the money that we have for one day and let them try to survive on it to find food and find shelter,” he said. “I’d like to give them 24 hours, especially in the winter, to see how they like it.

“I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t like it very much.”

Mr. Appling said a huge part of the problem facing the homeless is the lack of affordable housing in Dover. That’s why he wanted to talk to city council.

“There’s probably about 100 people on the streets of Dover, give or take, and that is a solvable problem if we can get the red tape out of the way and let people just help people,” he said.

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

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