Camping for a cause: Homeless spend a week in tents at Dover church

DOVER — The 20 blue tents that are huddled out in front of Victory Church off Forrest Avenue just west of Dover’s city limits are serving a dual purpose this week, organizers say.

Victory Church Pastor Aaron Appling said the “campout” is to show its solidarity in supporting the local homeless population as well as giving the homeless a reprieve from their normal routine.

The tents, donated by the church and community members, were erected on Monday and will remain up through Friday. That’s when they will be donated to the homeless who are utilizing them.

“It’s an awareness week just to raise awareness that we have this problem in our city and it’s also a chance to get people off the streets and give them a week where they have something different than their normal routine,” Pastor Appling said.

“A lot of the people are here playing cards at night and having fun and talking about things. It also helps us, at the same time, to get to raise awareness for homelessness, which remains a serious problem in Dover.”

JaQuan Crump, 21, climbs out of his tent on the Victory Church property west of Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel to End Homelessness last week estimated the local homeless population to be around 300 to 400 adults, with 400 to 500 unique individuals seen at the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing’s resource center annually.

One problem, Pastor Appling said, is that many people think the homelessness problem goes away when the weather warms up.

It does not, he says, and a good segment of the homeless population is always searching for where their next meal will come from.

Many faces of homelessness

JaQuan Crump, a 21-year-old homeless man from Dover, said being without a home is not just a physical issue — it’s also a mental one.

“For a lot people it wears on your mental (health),” he said. “It brings you down and makes you depressed and it just kind of puts you in the mood where you feel like you’re stuck and you can’t make it out. That’s why some people are homeless for years.

“We’re just trying to continue to try to bring awareness to the homeless problem in Dover – and Delaware – in general. There are a lot of people out here that’s homeless that don’t even look homeless.”

Helping the homeless, from left, Lead Pastor Mark Harmon, volunteer, Eric Abernathy, Pastor Aaron Appling and volunteer Samantha Wierney at the Victory Church west of Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Mark Harmon, who serves as the lead pastor at Victory Church, said his group sees the homeless as the biggest people at risk in the community.

They have fought to have tiny houses built in Kent County, have attended and spoken before every Dover City Council meeting since last August and continue to fight the good fight, he said.

“We’re raising awareness about homelessness and about a lot of issues that are going on in our own city, not just homelessness, but people who have homes and they don’t have enough food to eat or whatever the case may be,” Mr. Harmon said. “We’re just trying to raise awareness about the fact that there’s a lot of people struggling and a lot of people hurting and we’re just trying to offer some hope.”

Hope continues on

A large portion of that hope comes in the form of sharing a meal and giving the homeless a place to wash their clothes and take a shower at the church.

Denise Daniel was once homeless herself but is now one of the people offering a hand-up to those who are looking for it.

“(Victory Church) saved my life because I didn’t have any place to go and I’m actually a diabetic,” Ms. Daniel said. “They allowed me to put my insulin in the refrigerator and helped me get back on my feet.

“Now, I actually go out and feed the homeless and I was homeless. I just try to move it forward the best that I can.”

Mr. Crump said he just wishes there was an easier way to find help when he needs it. For example, when he requested emergency shelter last winter, he was told he would have to go up to Wilmington.

“The toughest thing about being homeless is just really the avenues in trying to get help,” said Mr. Crump. “They want to help you the way they want to help you. They don’t want to help you the way I actually feel like you need help.

“The only things that I have are in Dover. I feel like if you send me all the way to Wilmington, where I don’t have any resources, that I’d be up there for 30 days and it would just be stagnant.”

Mayor establishing task force

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen was presented with a report on the city’s homeless problem by his Panel to End Homelessness last week titled “A Housing Pathway for the Homeless in Dover, Delaware.”

In response to the in-depth report, the mayor said that he will be naming a Task Force regarding homelessness within the next week or so that will include decision makers in such areas as planning and zoning, law, human services and current shelter managers.

“It is not going to be an easy task,” Mayor Christiansen said. “This was the first step on a long journey, but it’s going to be worthwhile.”

The steps that the mayor has taken are encouraging, Pastor Appling said, but even they will not slow down his resolve to find quicker solutions.

“I’m encouraged about anything that appears as if it’s going forward, but at the same time we’re still going to keep our foot on the gas,” he said.

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