Training a vital tool for volunteers at homeless shelters

Jim Deel, a psychiatric social worker for the state of Delaware’s Crisis Intervention Services, offers de-escalation training for Sussex County Code Purple volunteers. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — Weeks ago, well before the freezing temperatures arrived, volunteers in Sussex County began learning how to meet the needs of those seeking shelter from the cold.

“It takes a whole slew of volunteers,” said Nikki Gonzalez, Sussex County Code Purple director. “You’re talking dinners every night, intake for guests at eight places, two overnight volunteers, morning relief, transportation … it’s massive.

Ms. Gonzalez said there’s a huge need for volunteers to work overnight.

Come Dec. 1, Code Purple Sussex County, empowered by Love INC of Mid-Delmarva, will open eight designated sanctuary shelters in southern Delaware through March 15, regardless of temperature. Last year, the group served approximately 300 homeless individuals of all ages.

On average, Code Purple needs about 132 volunteers to man its locations in Georgetown, Seaford, Bridgeville, Bethany Beach, Laurel and Delmar and Milford, where there are two sites.

“If I can’t have a volunteer for overnight, then I can’t open. That puts us in a predicament. And we struggled last year at many locations. The struggle is real,” said Ms. Gonzalez.

This year, shelter volunteers had the opportunity to be better prepared to address issues, emergency and potential crisis situations through de-escalation training. Sessions were held Oct. 1 at The CROSS. in Seaford and Oct. 2 at Mariners United Methodist Church in Ocean View.

The key to training is learning about stigma, says Jim Deel, a psychiatric social worker for Crisis Intervention Services with the Department of Health and Social Services who provided de-escalation training at one of the sessions.

“There are a lot of people in society that look down on folks that are homeless,” said Mr. Deel. “When individuals come into a shelter it is really important you engage them, you listen to what they are talking about.”

The goal of de-escalation training is to prevent an emotional situation or crisis from worsening or escalating.

“Don’t make assumptions based on a person’s appearance, based on their current status in life. There is a lot of wealthy people that lost everything, and they found themselves homeless. A lot of really intelligent people find themselves homeless,” said Mr. Deel. “They’ve lost jobs, lost a loved one. For whatever reason they find themselves homeless. Sometimes it’s bad decisions on their part and sometimes it’s just things that happen, things they do not have control over.”

Ms. Gonzalez said a key to helping is to build trust. “Then you can start helping problem solve,” she said. “It’s listening – not trying to fix anything. But then over time as you get to know them over the season then you can start speaking a little more of that help, building that trust.”

When a situation exceeds an individual’s ability to cope, it progresses to a mental health crisis.

“As the result of mental health crisis there is a lot of things that begin to happen to us. Things like depression. You lose interest in eating. It interrupts your sleep. There’s the start of withdraw,” said Mr. Deel. “Most folks can take things in life without too much difficulty or minor difficulty. So, when you do face difficulties, you can get really emotional. You lose a loved one you get emotional, your rational thinking sort of goes out the door. You lose your job, your rational thinking goes out the door. When those things happen your rationality, your capabilities of making appropriate decisions, wise decisions, those things sort of get misplaced.”

Mr. Deel’s presentation encompassed mental health, drug addiction, potential and worst-case scenarios. Safety — for guests and volunteers — suicidality assessment, depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety and detention were among topics covered.

Ms. Gonzalez said organizers hope that the training will help encourage volunteers and make them feel prepared to handle situations and be comfortable.

“We have a lot of fear associated with what we do. So that actually blocks some volunteers from getting involved because the fear of the unknown, the fear of mental health and the fear of addiction,” she said. “We’re hoping that the more training we make available, the more walls that will be breaking down so more people will help us over the season.”

“At the crux of it all, these are people. They human beings that matter. They matter in our society.

“Some of them need help in mental health areas. Some of them need help in addiction areas,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “We’re kind of like the last stop. They have used relatives, used every shelter, used everything that social services gives them. So, they have nowhere else to go at this point.”

A training session will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Nov. 21 at The CROSS, 703 E. King St., Seaford.

For volunteer and support opportunities, contact Sussex County Code Purple at 302-956-6006 or visit https://codepurplesussexcountyvolunteers.

To reach the Code Purple Hotline, call 302-519-0024.

Code Purple Sussex

The following shelters will be open Dec. 1 when Code Purple Sussex County begins operating:

Georgetown Presbyterian Church
203 N. Bedford St., Georgetown. Men and women, separate areas. Check-in, 9 p.m. (except Saturdays, 10 p.m.); Check-out, 7:45 a.m.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (parish hall)
202 N. North St, Seaford. Men only. Check-in, 8:30 p.m.; checkout, 7:45 a.m.

Gateway Fellowship
8110 Cannon Road, Bridgeville. Women and children only. Check-in, 8:30 p.m.; checkout, 7:45 a.m.

Avenue United Methodist Church
20 N. Church St., Milford. Men only (no sex offenders at this location due to preschool located inside part of church; other arrangements may be made at another shelter) Check-in 8:30 p.m.; checkout, 7 a.m.

Milford Nazarene
11 NW Salevan Pl., Milford. Women and children only. Check-in, 8:30 p.m.; check-out, 7:45 a.m.

Laurel Nazarene
100 Walnut Drive, Laurel (Opens Jan. 1). Men and separate area for fathers with children Check-in, 7 p.m. Check-out, 6 a.m.

Renovate Church
800 E. East St., Delmar, DE. Men only. Check-in, 7 p.m.; check-out, 7:45 a.m.

Stone House
Bethany Beach, TBA.

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