ISSUES AND ANSWERS: Kleimo on homelessness

Jeanine Kleimo, chairwoman of the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing and the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force to End Homelessness shared her views with the Delaware State News:

What’s the state of homelessness in downstate Delaware?

It’s very challenging, both for the homeless themselves and for many of those who try to assist them. At Dover Interfaith, we receive multiple daily calls and walk-ins asking for shelter; but we rarely have a spare bed and are required to allocate what we do have through the statewide 211 emergency service number. There is not enough shelter space downstate. Neither is there enough highly affordable or assisted houses to meet the demand.

A lady stopped in late yesterday afternoon to see if we might help. She has a lung infection and did not think she could endure another cold night outside; but we have no resources to assist her. That seems cruel; but it is simply the reality.

How does the situation in Kent compare to homelessness downstate and statewide?

Jeanine Kleimo

Our sense is that New Castle County is in a much better position, with more shelters operated by larger organizations with greater financial resources and staff to support them along with a larger and more diverse supply of rental housing. Sussex County experiences different challenges due, in part, to high rental rates in the eastern area and political resistance to shelters and assisted housing.

We are told by Wilmington-area well-funded agencies that there are enough shelter beds statewide; but that is not what we see downstate. We see dozens of people daily who live without any kind of reliable shelter in Kent County and hear the same story from those in Sussex.

What are the best short-term solutions to fixing homelessness?

Shelters are not a solution to the whole problem, but those that provide adequate services are capable of turning many lives around. They are a critical step in the current system.

The better solution is what I call “highly affordable” housing, such as group homes or rooming houses that offer access to case management services that enable those who can work or improve their skills to embark on a path towards stability and self reliance. We are beginning to do this with those leaving the shelter. More access is needed by those with disabilities or other very limited incomes. Creating such housing opportunities with supportive services tied to them is the best short-term solution.

What are the biggest obstacles?

The lack of resources — human, financial, and time — to implement the new Dover plan is an obstacle. I think that the community in general seeks a solution. We perceive that there is widespread concern about the homeless and recognition that something needs to be done; but it’s difficult to secure the resources to do it.

The solutions of the past are too expensive and insufficient to meet the need, though many higher-level agencies continue to assert these strategies as solutions, failing to open the door to new thinking and more cost-effective approaches.

How has the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing improved the situation?

We provide shelter for a sufficient period of time to enable homeless men to become employed and stable, then offer them affordable housing that continues to link them with services to ensure that they maintain self-reliant lives.

While not universally successful, DIMH does help 70 percent or more of those in our shelter to secure work and stability, typically in less than 60 days. Perhaps the best example of impact is that we estimate that those who comprise this 70 percent earn wages of $3.5 million annually, putting money into the local economy. This is at least 10 times our operating costs.

What can residents do to help fix homelessness?

Shelter residents are willing to work to fix houses that they might live in later. We have done this on a small scale. Community residents who are landlords can work with us to renovate buildings to convert them to affordable housing. We have a plan for this and invite them to contact us at 736-3600.

Others in the community may volunteer in a number of ways, contribute financially, urge their faith communities and employers to assist, and simply learn more about effective strategies to address homelessness and increase their personal capacity to open their minds and hearts to the needs of others.

We are thankful for the broad support of the people of Greater Dover and for the many who volunteer their time and who contribute meals and other assistance to make it possible for the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing to be effective.

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