Mayor receives homelessness report, prepares to start Task Force

Robin Christiansen

DOVER — Homelessness on the streets of Dover is something that is not just going to magically go away.

Mayor Robin Christiansen knows that and that’s why he put together a 13-member Blue Ribbon Panel on Homelessness to study the epidemic near the end of last year.

He said creating the panel of experts was a good start towards trying to find those elusive answers to a difficult problem.

Four months’ worth of meeting and studying by the panel led to the compilation of a document “A Housing Pathway for the Homeless Executive Summary,” a 21-page report prepared for Mayor Christiansen regarding homelessness in the city. It was unveiled at a quarterly open town meeting at City Hall on Wednesday night.

The mayor was pleased with the depth of information that he received and is ready to put the first steps of the plan into action.

“Members of the Blue Ribbon Commission did an exemplary job,” Mr. Christiansen said. “They covered all aspects that I asked them to do and then some.

“They were very meticulous and deliberate in their work and I think it’s a great working document for the next phase of addressing the issues of some of the less fortunate in our community and some of the others whose issues were brought up.”

The mayor said that he will be naming a Task Force regarding homelessness within the next seven to 14 days 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,” he said. “This was the first step on a long journey, but it’s going to be worthwhile.”

The panel’s report was an extensive one that delves deep into trying to find a solution to the homeless problem that includes an estimated population of between 300 and 400 in Dover.

Dr. Jerome Abrams, of Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, served as chairman of the Panel on Homelessness and said the issue has many different layers and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

“I must admit that given the enormity of the task of adequately addressing the needs of the homeless population in our community, we are not able to claim that we have discovered a ‘magic solution’ to our problems,” Dr, Abrams said.

“Instead, what we have to offer is a road map; a plan, which we feel will point us in the direction to which we should go.”

The panel was scheduled to report back to Mayor Christiansen after 60 days, but needed twice that much time to complete its study, which the mayor approved.

In the report’s conclusion, it stated, “The panel is confident that solutions will be found that will lead to permanent housing for those in our community who are experiencing homelessness. And this will improve the quality of life of all community members.

“We urge the mayor and local leadership to begin today by forming the Task Force which will be charged with amending codes, deciding governance, enabling free flow of information and resources, finding funding, and implementing the phases as outlined here.”

The No. 1 core value identified by the Panel on Homelessness in Dover is “Housing comes first!”

“Once the person has a roof over his or her head then he or she should have access to all the services which they require,” Dr. Abrams said. “Access should be unconditional and non-discriminatory.”

“Recognize that homelessness is a situation, mostly not of a person’s choosing, and it does not define who they are. These are people who at a particular place and time lack housing. They deserve the same amount of human dignity as anyone else.”

The three phases are expected to be started immediately with Phase 1, which includes finding storage space for personal belongings for the homeless.

The opening phase also includes finding a daytime site other than the Dover Public Library for homeless people to gather and for trained individuals to provide them with information, food and guidance.

Another goal is to expand the physical space for a daytime resource center, such as the one that operates adjacent to the Interfaith Mission. Its current operating hours are only from 9 a.m. to noon from Mondays through Fridays.

Phase 2 will include a Whole Health Approach towards finding shelter for the homeless while Phase 3 will try to enable a homeless person to transition into a self-supporting, productive homed situation through a variety of support services.

The panel also “acknowledges this is a long-term prospect which will be challenging on many fronts not the least of which is funding.

“Any discussion of funding cannot take place without the acknowledging and tabulating the actual costs to a community caused by homelessness itself.”

Mayor Christiansen’s Blue Ribbon panel was a diverse one that included: Chairman Abrams, Carla Benson-Green (Delaware Family Services Division), Brian Lewis (Dover City Council), Dr. Dan Shelton (Capital School District) and Rebecca Martin (Code Purple Kent County).

Joining them on the panel were: Chris Cooper (Habitat for Humanity), the Rev. Elmer Davis Jr. (What-coat United Methodist Church), Margie Cyr (Dover library),
Maj. William Farley (Delaware Veterans Commission), Allan Angel (Kent County Levy Court), Greg Bunkley (Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance), Cathi Kopera (Tiny Homes) and Jeanine Kleimo (Interfaith Mission).

Pastor Aaron Appling of Victory Church has been a staunch advocate for the homeless. He has brought members of the homeless community out to speak before city council meetings for almost a year in order to gain awareness of the problem.

He was pleased with the steps that Mayor Christiansen and his Panel on Homelessness have taken.

“I think it’s really a good step forward in just talking about this issue and I’m excited, I think just the discussion is really good,” Pastor Appling said. “The biggest problem is affordable housing and I think we know that – there’s just nothing affordable.

“I think the last thing I read was you’ve got to make $18 an hour to afford to live. That’s a real issue.”

It’s one of many that confront Dover’s homeless population, an estimated 70 percent of which is gainfully employed, every day.

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

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