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Homeless face more difficulty during crisis

Emily Lytle * Delaware
elytle@doverpost.com
Dover Post

Walking the streets of downtown Dover, things look different during the coronavirus crisis. Several businesses have “closed” signs in their windows, others have limited hours and the public library has shut its doors. One thing that hasn’t changed is the estimated 300 homeless people.

Ennio Emmanuel is the director of Code Purple of Kent County, a nonprofit that serves the homeless. He said people panicked a little when buildings started to close.

“They were really worried about what was going to happen. There was nothing open,” he said.

The homeless needed public restrooms and reliable housing to keep themselves and others safe. That’s when the city, state and several nonprofits stepped up.

They may be working to house and feed these people for the next 70 days, Emmanuel said. For people with a homeless family member, he asks them to care for their own first.

“People and their families need to open their doors and not expect nonprofits and the state to take care of it,” he said. “Especially in moments like this when things are shaky.”

Portable restrooms

Once several downtown buildings closed, many homeless people lost access to public restrooms, Councilman David Anderson said. “Things were starting to deteriorate downtown,” he said. Emmanuel agreed, saying he saw people using buildings and alleys.

This comes at a time when downtown businesses and residents were already reporting problems with public urination and defecation.

Some homeless people told the city about the problem and Kay Sass, city public affairs officer, said she saw the need across social media. “There was some concern that we had for them being able to wash and take care of themselves,” she said

Holly Rybinski, peer recovery clinical supervisor at Hopes and Dreams, had the same concern after she struggled to find an open business to use the restroom.

“If it is difficult for me, someone that has a vehicle, then it would definitely be much more difficult for someone struggling with housing insecurity to find somewhere to use a restroom,” she said.

When city staff asked her if they could place a portable restroom on Hopes and Dreams’ property, she said “of course.”

Dover added two portable restrooms with a toilet and sink, one off Division Street by Hopes and Dreams and one near the transit center downtown.

City staff chose areas where they saw the most people gathering throughout the day, Sass said. “We have found that those locations so far are working out,” she said.

The city will continue to monitor the restrooms to make sure they’re used and kept clean by the contractor.

Code Purple hopes to add three more at Maranatha Life Changing Church (1235 E. Division Street), at 320 W. Division Street and at People’s Church (46 S. Bradford Street). The restrooms will come from RPJ Waste Services, which pledged to donate units.

Hotels

Meanwhile, the state is coordinating housing in hotel rooms. In Dover, around 100 people were staying in the Super 8 and Dover Inn where they were served lunch and dinner.

Now everyone is moving to the Hampton Inn in Milford, Emmanuel said. “Finding hotels that are not discriminatory against homeless people is tough to find,” he said. They are searching for more hotels to help meet the need.

Sass said the city is grateful that the state provided housing. “The fact that the state did step in and house people was very helpful because we don’t receive the funds that they do,” she said. “There’s so many organizations that money is distributed between that we don’t always see the trickle-down effect into Dover.”

Code Purple continues its emergency overnight shelter for women and children at Maranatha Life Changing Church. They have expanded their pantry hours for donations and pick-up. Emmanuel said the pantry’s visitors have more than doubled, and they accept all kinds of donations all week.

Thinking ahead, Emmanuel said they particularly need tents and sleeping bags. Code Purple typically runs a campaign to collect hundreds of supplies left after Firefly Music Festival, but they will be missing that donation since the festival was canceled.

Sass said the city is thinking of all those who may be going through hardships right now. “We just pray that everyone is going to be OK during all of this, whether they’re housed or not. From physical health to mental health, it’s a struggle for a lot of people.”

Rybinski encouraged people to stay positive and support each other. “At one time, I myself was homeless. I had nothing but the clothes on my back, and I was alone. I had lost everything, and I thought I would never be where I am today,” she said. “If no one told you they believe in you today, we do. This too shall pass.”

Code Purple's extended pantry hours

Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 9 a.m. to noon

Tuesday and Thursday: 1 to 3 p.m.

  • Donations needed: Food (anything a soup kitchen might need, frozen meals, snacks, drinks), clothing, toiletries; tents and sleeping bags for people who can’t get into a hotel yet.
  • Bring donations to the office at 1207 E. Division St.
  • Volunteer: Call 1-800-733-6816 or message through Facebook to get on the schedule to serve meals.
  • Facebook: www.facebook.com/Codepurplekentcounty
  • Anyone in need of housing can get on a list by contacting Denise Jackson at the James W. Williams State Service Center: 302-857-5000.