Homeless campers sent packing

Property owner: Time to move on
Residents are preparing to leave a tent city off of Route 1. BY RON MACARTHUR
April 4, 2014

Tents that have been home to at times a dozen homeless residents for about two years are likely to be packed up and moved.

Two men, who asked that their names be withheld, remained at the camp April 2. They said only four people are living there now. Neither man knows where they'll go after Saturday, the day they are supposed to vacate the property.

“I got a couple of days to think about that,” said one man who has lived at the camp for a couple of years.

Local homeless shelter volunteer Janet Idema said Soul Ministry, a church group in Frankford, will provide shelter.

Both men questioned whether a new hotel going up next to their campsite had something to do with their exit.

“Now that they're putting up the hotel, now we've got to leave,” one said.

Property owner Robert Hood of Snohomish, Washington, made no mention of the hotel when contacted by the Cape Gazette. He said he knew about a group of people who had set up camp on his property, and he allowed them to stay on the property out of charity. But the time has come for them to move on, he said.

A week ago, Hood said, he visited the site and realized there were more people than he anticipated.

“I independently asked them to leave the property,” he said.

Sussex County in December sent Hood a letter informing him his property was in violation of planning and zoning, said Chip Guy, Sussex County spokesman.

“The county's involvement was limited to the land-use component,” he said.

The letter, dated Dec. 26, gave Hood 10 days to respond or face a violation notice sent to the Sussex County Constable, who could forward it to the Justice of the Peace Court.

“It has come to the attention of the Sussex County Planning and Zoning office that the campground for homeless people located on the property … is in violation of Sussex County Code,” wrote Dean Pettyjohn, inspector II for planning and zoning.

Hood said he spoke with county officials who gave him time to resolve the situation on his property.

Hood, whose great-great grandmother was a member of the nearby Midway Presbyterian Church, said the community must be sympathetic to those down on their luck.

“You try to be as compassionate as possible,” he said. “I hope it evolves into something good.”

Delaware State Police Cpl. Matthew Blakeman has checked on the residents over the past two years and said he is helping make arrangements to move the residents off the property by Saturday, April 5.

Blakeman said he has talked to the residents, and they understand the situation. Volunteers have lined up a storage unit to hold their belongings, and transportation will be available to take them off the site, he said.

“I feel horrible for those guys,” Blakeman said. “We're trying to do this as compassionately as possible.”

The move came as a shock to Nan Ruhl and other homeless shelter volunteers. “A lot of people are very concerned about them,” she said.

About 40 concerned citizens attended a meeting April 2 at Epworth United Methodist Church to organize a peaceful gathering Saturday, April 5, near the camp site.

“We want a peaceful gathering in front of tent city,” said volunteer Bill Quinn. “We will not be screaming slogans. We're only going to have a presence.”

Volunteer Idema said the group will meet about 9:30 a.m. in front of the Midway Presbyterian Church.

“We're doing this in this manner out of respect to members and groups in the community who have helped us,” she said.

Shelter volunteer Marcia Dean said the community needs to know the homeless population is growing in the area, and they need help.

“Ultimately we want a permanent place with rehab and job training for the area's homeless,” she said.