Homeless find voice at Dover City Council meetings

DOVER — Aaron Appling, pastor of Victory Church, just wanted to give a face and a voice to what he considers to be an often overlooked homeless population scattered throughout Dover.

So Pastor Appling gathered around 100 homeless people on the evening of Aug. 22, 2016, and brought them to City Hall.

Mr. Appling and others from the homeless community spoke during the public forum to make sure city council was aware of the chronic homeless situation and urged elected officials to lend any assistance they could.

He said he wanted to make sure Dover’s leaders were aware of the issues facing the homeless and try to help them find a home.

“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 at that August meeting. “We’re just bringing it to them to ask for help peacefully and in the right forum where the public’s allowed to speak.

Pastor Aaron Appling of Victory Church addresses a group of homeless men and women as they prepare to go inside Dover City Hall last August to speak in front of city council. The homeless advocates have returned for every city council meeting since. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

“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.”

Then he spoke his prophetic words.

“We will be back … and we will keep coming back until we get some of that red tape removed,” he said.

Pastor Appling and dozens of homeless have shown up and spoken during the public forum before every city council meeting ever since.

City council members listen intently to the words of the homeless, but are handcuffed when it comes to finding a solution due to having no funds in the city budget to address the issue.

Mayor Robin R. Christiansen did form the Mayor’s Panel on Homelessness in Dover late last year in response to the civilian homeless population. The 13-member group has met regularly since that time, most recently March 1.

He has said that he and other council members have empathy for the homeless.

“I want the community to know that this mayor and council are making an effort to address the issues of those who are less fortunate,” Mayor Christiansen said.

The mayor said that he understands the frustration, indicating his belief that he and every member of council were frustrated that it appeared that they were sitting impassively; however, they were not.

He said that every member of council works on a daily basis to help all of their citizens and did not want the homeless to think they were being left behind.

“There are efforts being made to develop a strategy to do the best that can be done to help our fellow human beings,” Mayor Christiansen said.

Eric Abernathy, a homeless veteran, said the homeless are always being pushed out, no matter where they go. He said if they are pushed out of Dover he doesn’t know what would be next.

“I’m asking city council to look into their hearts and find out what is there, and what it is about being homeless that bothers people,” Mr. Abernathy said. “Homelessness is no respecter of persons and can happen to anyone, anywhere.”

The journey to find a solution, Pastor Appling said, is just beginning.

He said as the weather begins to get warmer that more and more homeless people would be speaking before city council meetings.

“We are diligent in our focus and we could come for the next three years and say the same things over and over again,” Pastor Appling said. “We will continue to keep coming because we are morally right and God is on our side because we are helping the least of those.

“Housing is a human right and not a privilege.”

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