Safe parking proposal pitched for homeless workers living in vehicles

Affordable housing advocate Jim Martin, right, shares information on an initiative in a Facebook Live segment prior to the April 30 Sussex County Council meeting. Also at the mini-rally on The Circle, Dr. Michele Williams and Greg Lake. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN – The advocacy drive for the homeless in Sussex County hit “park” last week with a request to utilize a portion of county-owned property along U.S. 113 in Georgetown as a temporary, monitored parking/sleeping area for the workforce homeless living in their vehicles.

Jim Martin and Dr. Michele Williams on April 30 submitted a predevelopment meeting request form at Georgetown Town Hall. Their hope is to garner permission from the town — and the county — to use three acres of the county-owned 29-acre parcel off DuPont Boulevard and East Trap Pond Road as a designated Sussex County Vehicular and Safe Parking Lot Program.

“There is a lot of people living in their cars. They have jobs but they can’t afford to have both. They can’t afford to have a home and a car,” said Mr. Martin. “So, they pick the car because they’ve got to get to work.”

Mr. Martin said the county lot “is sitting vacant and not being utilized as far as we know.”

Conditional use was checked in the predevelopment meeting request form submitted by Dr. Williams, whose expertise includes public administration, community development and real estate.

“I’m thrilled Michele wants to be involved,” Mr. Martin said. “She brings a lot of credibility.”

Mr. Martin unveiled the parking plan during public commentary at county council’s April 30 meeting.

“I am searching for a safe and legal location where we can host our homeless car dwellers from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. for six months from May to November,” Mr. Martin said before council. “Can we use just a three-acre corner area of your county-owned 29-acre property which is located at 22308 DuPont Boulevard in Georgetown as a temporary safe parking area for legal overnight car camping? Can we place this topic on your agenda?”

As Mr. Martin concluded his brief presentation, county council president Michael H. Vincent, R-Seaford, advised Mr. Martin the initial step would fall under town of Georgetown jurisdiction. County approval, for permission to use the land, would be required as well.

“Just as an FYI, the land I think you referenced of ours on the highway out here, visit the town of Georgetown first,” Mr. Vincent said. “Not that we would consider doing that, but it would have to be their (town of Georgetown’s) approval first before we could do anything.”

“Our goal is to get on the agenda, obviously, at the town,” said Mr. Martin. “I think you have to go through this predevelopment meeting first.”

Mr. Martin said he and his team would walk the county and town through the planned process for vetting applicants who apply for overnight parking. It would be limited to 25 spaces.

“We will provide the funding needed for preparing and operating the overnight parking area for a period of six months,” said Mr. Martin. “We will provide the oversight, the portable toilets and do daily cleanup, grass cutting and trash removal. In Sussex County we only have 25 shelter beds to offer yet we have thousands who are homeless in Sussex County. They are either roofless, homeless or precariously housed.”

“We would definitely have a security guard there through the night. We’re going to find the money, somehow,” said Mr. Martin. “I don’t want a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics on the parking lot; you guys can find a tent behind Walmart. This is for people that want to get a good night’s sleep so they can get to their job in the morning.”

One of the pre-requisites in vetting for the vehicle camping area is employment.

“If you are trying to do the right things and you really have a job … we want people to have employment verification. I want to be very careful about vetting everyone,” Mr. Martin said.

The only thing sought from the county is temporary donation of land.

“The only thing we want the county to do is give us the land so we can use it — and then move. They won’t have any bills to pay. We just want to borrow their property for six months,” Mr. Martin said. “And we’re hoping the town also gives us the green light because everybody is parking at the Walmart parking lot … we’re trying to create a safety zone for everybody.”

Homelessness/affordable housing has been a simmering issue for some time. Mr. Martin has addressed county council numerous times in recent months in hopes of drawing support for initiatives that include tiny house communities.

Sussex County several months ago hired a consultant to conduct an affordable housing study in Sussex. Last December, the county pledged upward of $35,000 in a match for Home4Good, a housing locator program funded through partnership of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh and the Delaware State Housing Authority.

“Even though homelessness and the housing crisis is getting worse month after month, our county said ‘no’ to more emergency shelter beds at the Emmanuelle Shelter in Lewes,” said Mr. Martin. “Our town said ‘no’ to more emergency shelter beds at the Crisis House in Georgetown. Can you now say ‘yes’ to placing this topic on your agenda for deeper discussion?”

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