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Safety, prejudice: Hot topics at meeting about homeless shelter

Emily Lytle * Delaware
elytle@doverpost.com
Dover Post

Several people living in the neighborhood between the YMCA outdoor pool and the Modern Maturity Center spoke against Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing’s proposed relocation from Forest Street to Walker Road at a public meeting Jan. 6.

Most concerns were about safety and any registered sex offenders among the homeless the men’s shelter serves.

Richard Hudson’s home backs up to the shelter’s potential location. “I don’t want them in my backyard and you wouldn’t want them in yours,” he said.

Chair of Dover Interfaith Jeanine Kleimo said she was once wary about serving registered sex offenders when she started at the shelter in 2008. She then learned that many received the lifelong label when they were young.

“We’re not talking about serial pedophiles, we’re talking about, for the most part, young men who made a mistake and who regretted that mistake,” she said.

Cathi Kopera, a re-entry specialist at Community Partner Support Unit, works with homeless men, including registered sex offenders. “I don’t look at them like that,” she said.

Lisa Torbert is a certified addiction counselor and owner of Heather’s Holistic Health on Walker Road, with a clientele of 90% women. She is worried the shelter’s move would increase risks for women and children in the area. “I don’t think this location is the best fit or the safest choice,” she said.

Others argued that the shelter would exacerbate existing problems, such as people cutting through their backyards, leaving trash and breaking into cars to steal change.

Pediatrician Dr. Julia Pillsbury works near the Walker Road property and expressed concerns about her patients’ safety since many walk to the office.

“There needs to be a better police response than what has existed until now,” she said.

Most of the men coming to Dover Interfaith have served time, but few return to prison, Kleimo said.

“No one has committed a new crime while in the shelter, sex offender or otherwise,” she said. “Those who return to incarceration almost always do so because they violated the terms of their probation.”

Some, like Paula Workman, warned her neighbors against fearing men who are homeless.

“There’s a lot of prejudice in this community,” Workman said. “We’re scared of people we don’t know.”

Rev. James Hill, an African American resident, agreed, saying some of the people they worry about already live in their neighborhood.

“When my kids walked down Bicentennial Boulevard, they were told: ‘Go home. You don’t belong here,’” Hill said. He urged his neighbors to be slow to judge and quick to forgive.

Councilmember for the 4th district Roy Sudler Jr. agreed. “Respect, period, will take us far.”

No decision or final action was made at the town hall, which was intended to inform all people involved, including Dover Interfaith, Downtown Dover Partnership and community members.

About Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing

  • Only serves men in central Delaware
  • Includes 34 beds
  • Current location: 684 Forest St., Dover
  • Proposed location: 1156 Walker Rd., Dover
  • Average length of stay is 50-60 days. Men must prove that they are working toward a job or improving their situation after the first 30 days.
  • Dover Interfaith includes a daytime Resource Center, which provides services for homeless men and women. They can access mail, showers, laundry facilities and assistance with employment, benefits and housing.
  • The Resource Center includes highly-affordable housing, mostly for men who find stable employment and income after leaving the shelter. This additional housing provides 58 beds.