Homeless issue heats up as temps cool down

DOVER — Temperatures in Dover are expected to drop to 30 degrees tonight and again next Wednesday night, with the freezing weather bringing potentially life-threatening conditions to the homeless population in the city.

Considering that Code Purple Kent County doesn’t open its sanctuaries until Dec. 1 and the city of Dover doesn’t have any emergency plan in place for the homeless, local advocates for the less fortunate are seriously concerned about the homeless’ well-being out on the streets at this time.

Allan Angel, the Levy Court’s 3rd District commissioner, has spent time on the streets with the homeless — which are estimated to be between 300 and 400 people in Kent County — just to see the kinds of things that they go through.

“This current situation is a Catch-22 for everybody that’s involved,” Mr. Angel said. “At this point in time there is nothing I can report to you. I did ask to get this put on the (Levy Court) agenda to look at getting some funding in the future for this (kind of emergency situation).

“To me, it’s just mind boggling the perception that homeless are coming here because it’s easy to help the homeless here. I just don’t see that happening. And anything under 32 degrees is freezing and that’s not a good thing, no matter what month it is.”

Code Purple Kent County acts as a beacon for the homeless population when temperatures or wind chills drop below 32 degrees. The nonprofit organization guides them to emergency shelters that offer hot meals, beds, bathrooms and a warm environment.

The sanctuaries usually have at least 25 to 30 men and 10 to 15 women when the sanctuaries are open.

With freezing weather knocking at the door, Kent County has offered to provide cots and Code Purple has blankets and sleeping bags ready to use, but there are no sanctuaries currently available.

An emergency plan

“I have a really hard time believing that the city of Dover doesn’t have some kind of an emergency plan for people out in the street,” Mrs. Martin said. “Homeless people freeze too, just like any other person would freeze in those temperatures. We’re really frustrated. We have been through so much in trying to help.

“It seems like the more we try to find an answer with the city the further the wall goes up. With these cold days coming up now there’s places and resources around the city that could open for people to come in. We have the cots, the sleeping bags, the blankets and pillows. I cook meals from my own money. A lot of people in the city say to me, ‘How many people are on your staff?’ A staff? … Haha! We’re just a couple of volunteers.”

Dover City Manager Donna Mitchell did respond to an email sent by Mrs. Martin regarding the expected cold weather tonight.

Mrs. Mitchell wrote, “The City does not have the resources to assist in this matter. In all weather-related emergencies we escalate them to Kent County. I believe they have cots and the buses for the Boys & Girls Club should be available. It is my understanding they used the buses to transport citizens with voting. You may want to touch base with Commissioner Angel on this.”

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen has spearheaded the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Homelessness in Dover for more than a year. He said that things such as social service actions fall under the purview of the state of Delaware.

“We involved with City Council and the city od Dover do not want to be portrayed as heartless and uncaring, we just do not have the resources to address the issue of homeless folks, but as the Mayor, along with individual members of council, we do what we can with cooking meals and donating and helping individuals,” Mayor Christiansen said.

The mayor said he was on the phone for much of Friday trying to find a solution to this weekend’s homeless dilemma — to no avail.

“I have reched out to a number of organizations who deal with the issue of our fellow citizens who are homeless and down on their luck but they, too, are kind of caught off guard,” he said. “I have reached out to a number of organizations that are dealing with this issue to see if they can step to the plate.”

Sue Harris, co-founder of Port Hope Inc., spoke before Dover City Council in September and urged them to develop some kind of an emergency plan for the homeless.

When a potential hurricane was threatening Dover in September, Ms. Harris told city council members that she feeds between 30 to 40 homeless individuals every Tuesday and Saturday behind the Dover Public Library. She said she was extremely concerned for their safety.

“I understand that shelters will be opened during a state of emergency for individuals who are evacuated from their homes, however, where are the homeless supposed to go when people are told to stay inside and off the streets?,” she said.

Ms. Harris added, “I would suggest that an emergency fund would be a good use for (city) council members’ discretionary funds, which could be used to put an established plan into action when needed. The city needs to take the lead regarding this matter.”

Code Purple starts in Dec.

As of now, Code Purple Kent County, which did not get funding for grants from either the state of Delaware or the CenDel Foundation, will operate its emergency shelters from Dec. 1 until March 31.

There will be men’s sanctuaries offered at Peoples Church, Presbyterian Church, Mt. Carmel Church, Wyoming Methodist Church and Centennial Church in Smyrna.

For women, sanctuaries will be hosted by Maranatha Church in Dover on East Division Street and Christ Church in Dover on Fridays.

Code Purple will be providing dinner and a light breakfast to its guests. The sanctuaries will open by 5 p.m. and close prior to 8 the following morning.

Mrs. Martin said Dover Air Force Base has stepped up and has between 35 to 40 volunteers ready to help at the sanctuaries.

Anyone who would like to help provide meals or make a financial donation to Code Purple Kent County is encouraged to call 302-339-0123 or 302-270-2177.

“Unfortunately, this year our grants did not go through, but that’s OK,” Mrs. Martin said. “This will all work. So, we will need help with coffee, sugar, creamer, water, juice mix, paper supplies, cleaning supplies and snacks.

“And thank you to all the community for helping us to help all those in need.”

That’s the positive message that Mrs. Martin wants to send out to the community, but not so much to the city right now.

‘City needs to step up’

“I think it’s time to unzip our lips for the first time in a long time,” she said. “We didn’t get any funding, so our money supply is very low. The sanctuaries that open for us are the same that have opened since the beginning of Code Purple. They have the expense of utilities and they don’t know if they’re going to be open at night or the next day.

“It’s just a sad thing to see guys and women that live in tents and are going to freeze. It’s like, ‘Come on community, let’s shake it up!’ Somebody has a suggestion to let them stay at the Dover Public Library at night as long as there are volunteers there. We’re scrambling right now.”

Colin Faulkner, director of Emergency Management for Kent County, said he is well-aware of the difficulties that the homeless population face, especially in the chill of fall and winter.

“Our paramedics and first responders are alertful to things like this,” he said. “Anybody stuck out in the cold can become exacerbated with the cold, freezing conditions.

“If we get called on an individual that has accessed our 9-1-1 center we are going to respond. If they’ve been out in the cold long enough, we will transport them to Bayhealth Kent General Hospital in Dover where they can receive treatment.”

Mr. Faulkner said it’s obvious Dover is facing a challenge with winter weather arriving early this season.

“The cold can be a sad thing,” said Mr. Faulkner. “I was once in Walmart in the middle of winter and these young people are buying tents and they’re going to live in them. They have to have a place to be.”

Mrs. Martin just wishes that place was inside the warmth of a building.

 

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

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