Nonprofit hopes to add more outdoor lighting in Milford

MILFORD — Outdoor lighting, energy efficiency and community outreach were on the City Council docket this week.

The HELP Initiative’s executive director Charles Kistler updated the council Monday night on his organization’s work installing outdoor lighting across the city before going into his plans for more projects.

“Our services are focused on energy efficiency and public safety,” Mr. Kistler said of his nonprofit. “The real purpose is to build trust with the people in these communities.”

In May 2019, Mr. Kistler said the HELP Initiative began its work in Milford, where it installed 343 outdoor lights on single-family homes and 125 lights in apartment complexes and other multifamily structures.

In comparison with the period between August 2018 and July 2019, he said Milford has seen 9.91% less crime between August 2019 and July 2020.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that the LED lights had a direct impact on this,” Mr. Kistler said, but “any reduction in crime is a good thing. … This is good information for us.”

Mr. Kistler said working with the Milford Police Department has been a pleasure.

“I think Milford has one of the finest departments in the state,” he said. “We’ve really had a close working relationship with them on the statistics, and we’ve been able to make a big impression.”

Mr. Kistler also thanked Rob Pierce, Milford’s planning and economic development director.

“Rob Pierce did an excellent job of helping us identify houses that were consuming 20,000, up to 50,000 kilowatts of energy on an annual basis. That’s a lot of energy,” he said. “We identified 93 homes and put energy-efficient measures in those homes.”

Mr. Kistler said the HELP Initiative was founded in 2016 and quickly began its outdoor lighting project in Dover, where it is based.

“We did 368 homes in Dover, installing energy-efficient lights on the front porches and solar-powered floodlights in the back of the homes,” he said.

From there, the project’s focus moved to Seaford, then to Milford.

“Typically, in the areas we’re concentrated in, there’s a criminal element, so it’s tough to get someone to even answer the door,” Mr. Kistler said.

The HELP Initiative’s solution has been to brand itself.

“We wear the right shirts. We have the same color shirts every time we’re out there. We have proper identification,” he said.

Additionally, Mr. Kistler said the organization leaves notices on the doors they plan to knock on in the days before they come around, so people aren’t caught off-guard.

“Typically, we have a phone number on there that legitimizes who we are,” he said. “That phone number is tied to the city or to the property management company.”

Mayor Archie Campbell was the only person to offer a question during Mr. Kistler’s presentation.

“Do you have bilingual people working with you?” he asked.

“We have three that speak Spanish and two that speak French or Haitian Creole,” Mr. Kistler said.

Mr. Kistler said that for the HELP Initiative’s next presentation to the council, one of his bilingual staff members would be doing the talking.

Now, Mr. Kistler said the HELP Initiative has additional funding to do more work in Milford.

“We have Phase 2 funding from Energize Delaware to be able to come in and start doing more lights in your city,” he said. “We’re going to go into multifamily and landlord-tenant properties first because of the virus and the kind of conditions it’s placing on us when we go to the door.”

Working through landlords, Mr. Kistler said, has allowed his organization to minimize the amount of work they do going door to door in the COVID-19 era.

Furthermore, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has “funded us to do 100 healthy-home assessments in your city. Through Rob Pierce’s help, we’ve been able to identify 198 homes where we need to be able to go in,” he said.

“The checkups, which gets us from the outside of the house, with the lightbulbs and lights on, to the inside of the house by replacing all the inefficient lighting, putting pipe-wrap aerators, low-flow showerheads,” he said. “That gets us inside and out and also builds that trust factor to be able to do the next big thing, which is the Weatherization Assistance Program.”

Mr. Kistler said that program is meant to help poor homeowners improve the insulation in their houses to lower their utility bills.

“We’re ready to go,” he said. “What we need from the council and the city and the mayor is just a green light.”