Dover now has three emergency sanctuaries to help the homeless during severe weather


Cold weather homeless sanctuaries open in Dover

By Jeff Brown


The lights in the Mt. Carmel Church of the Living God were extinguished promptly at 9:30 p.m. darkening the small basement that was serving as a Code Purple sanctuary for six homeless men.

Two already were wrapped up, fully clothed, in surplus military blankets on donated military cots; from their cots, two others watched a closed-caption movie on a television with the sound turned down.

Before turning in for the night, two guests, Tommy Ray Edwards and Bartley Mumford, conversed quietly about why they were there that evening.

“It’s freezing cold outside,” Edwards said, his accent reflecting his Tupelo, Miss., origins. “It’s freezing, and these folks are willing to help.”

“I didn’t have nowhere to go,” Mumford explained. A native of Saulsbury, Md., he stays with friends or relatives when not spending nights in hospital waiting rooms or unlocked cars. Tonight, he’s at the church because the friend he sometimes stays with had asked him to leave.

Edwards has been in the Dover area a little more than two years. He usually spends his days in local libraries, or, if he can find the transportation, a truck stop near Felton.

Wednesday was the second night this week the Church of the Living God had opened its small sanctuary to the homeless; with freezing weather predicted for the rest of the week, plans already had been laid to open again on Thursday and possibly Friday.

It had been a quiet night, said William Brown, one of three church members who had opened the basement sleeping area at 5 p.m.

“We served them dinner − chili − and they liked that,” Brown said just before lights-out. “Things are going very well. Everyone’s getting along with each other.”

Following dinner, the men had spent a little more than two hours relaxing, watching television or reading. After several hours of sleep, the men were to be awakened at 6 a.m. Thursday and following a light breakfast, were to leave the church at 8 a.m.

All eventually would go back out on the streets, but anyone wanting to clean up first would be taken to the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing for the opportunity to take a hot shower.

Although arrangements are spartan in the church cellar, there is enough to eat and sufficient bedding to serve up to 15 men, Brown said.

“The main thing for us is to get these guys out of the cold,” he said, adding there’s been a lot of help from Dover residents in stocking the sanctuary.

“The community has been very gracious,” he said. “The donations have been coming in. There’s been a great outpouring of gifts; one lady even came in with hats, sleeping bags and pillows.”

Their work is part of the church’s Biblically-inspired mission to help others, Brown added.

“The way I see it, we’re a church in the community, for the community,” he said.

The Mt. Carmel Church now is one of three Code Purple sanctuaries in the city, with additional facilities on the horizon.

In addition to Mt. Carmel, located at 117 N. West St., a 15-bed sanctuary for women and children has been set up at The Shepherd Place at 1362 S. Governors Ave., and at the Presbyterian Church of Dover at 54 S. State St., which will take in families as well as women and children when The Shepherd Place is full.

A Code Purple situation occurs when weather conditions become so bad that the lives of the homeless could suffer if they are forced to remain outside.

The opening of the three Code Purple sanctuaries is the result of a Feb. 4 meeting where concerned citizens and church groups met at Kent County Levy Court to discuss how to help the homeless when bad weather threatens. The group met again on Feb. 11 to review what had been lightning-fast work over the prior week to set up the sanctuaries.

Despite their successes, the group agreed much still needs to be done, including finding a permanent solution to the problem of sheltering the homeless in emergency conditions. All agreed the work they were doing this season was just enough to meet immediate needs.

Problems such as notifying the sanctuaries when they need to open, making sure there are enough volunteers to man the facilities and finding ways of letting the homeless know where they can go, await long-term solutions.

Generally speaking, a Code Purple occurs when the outside temperature dips to 25 degrees, although individual sanctuaries can open under other conditions if their leaders see fit.

Code Purple primarily is an effort between groups, mostly church ministries, who want to help the homeless, and as such there is no set standard for when to open or what services to provide other than a warm meal and a place to stay when it is too cold to remain outside.

Currently, the focal point for those helping the homeless centers is the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, which helps synchronize the aid and collects monetary donations. The group recently received $700 from the Knights of Columbus and an anonymous donor.

To make donations to the Code Purple effort, contact the Dover Interfaith Mission at 736-3600.