Cape Code Purple answers call to house homeless

Men’s and women’s shelters in Lewes and Rehoboth Beach open for 105 nights this past winter
March 29, 2024

Cape Code Purple honored its volunteers with an appreciation breakfast March 16 at Lutheran Church of Our Savior, one of the nightly shelter sites.

Between the women’s shelter site at the Lutheran Church in Rehoboth Beach and the men’s site at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Lewes, 130 volunteers filled 1,000 available positions during the 105 nights the homeless shelters were open. There were 10 volunteers each night, which included four people staying overnight, four intake workers and two bus drivers.

Mike Agnew, coordinator of the program, said that’s a 50% increase in the number of volunteers over last year.

Throughout the 105 nights the shelters were open, there were 90 guests overall with an average of 21 per night across both shelters. The shelters are open seven days a week.

By fire marshal regulations, each shelter is limited to 14 people per night. “The last three weeks, the men’s shelter reached capacity,” Agnew said.

Once the shelters closed March 16, volunteers still helped guests by giving every one a six-person tent, sleeping bag and portable propane heater.

A new women’s shelter

It was the first winter for the women’s shelter, which opened Dec. 8. The Lewes Senior Center provided a shelter for the first week of Code Purple, giving organizers more time to get the women’s shelter up and running. The St. Jude’s shelter opened last winter.

Code Purple in Sussex County is administered by LOVE Inc., based in Seaford, with shelters in Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, two in Milford, and one each in Seaford and Georgetown. The shelters are open Dec. 1 to March 16.

LOVE Inc. staff compile nightly intake information, handle reservations and provide a homeless hotline.

“This is also a celebration of what they do for us,” Agnew said of the March 16 appreciation breakfast.

During the event, Agnew thanked a lot of people involved with the shelter, including Kathy Connell, who coordinated the women’s shelter. He also honored Tom Tulley, who drove the bus 72 days.

Meals program new this year

Agnew and his volunteers have worked to make their shelters more accessible and more welcoming.

This year, a meals ministry started with hot meals provided three days a week. Agnew said 960 meals were served this past winter with a host of volunteers from St. Jude and the Lutheran Church, Bethel United Methodist Church, Village Improvement Association, Epworth UM Church and the Teach a Person to Fish program.

Agnew said one of the goals for next season is to expand the meals program to more nights.

To make access to the shelters easier, organizers secured the donation of a small DART bus last year. Drivers were able to pick up guests at night and then take them to the Community Resource Center in Rehoboth in the morning for the day. Agnew said the bus had 195,000 miles and was in bad shape. Next year, they will get a newer bus, one that was used for the now-defunct Lewes Line. Drivers logged more than 2,800 miles.

The program also has a laundry ministry with a team who washed, sanitized and folded more than 1,250 pounds of laundry. Ocean Suds Laundromat donates the use of its machines.

The program offers bikes to its guests thanks to donated repair work by Lewes Cycle Sports and Sussex Cyclists, which covered the costs of parts.

Volunteers also collected clothing for distribution at the women’s shelter.

Plans for next year

Agnew said plans are already being made for the next winter season. He said they are working to develop a storage locker program using 30 donated bins by Casella Waste Management.

“We are looking for a place along Route 1 to store them,” he said. “They will be locked and monitored, and fixed so they can be moved. We want our guests to be like everyone else and not walking around with suitcases, bags and shopping carts. They carry everything they own with them.”

Volunteers said one person at the women’s shelter carries around as many as 17 bags.

In addition, they are seeking ideas for wrapping their bus in artwork to provide better awareness of the Code Purple program. Agnew said that the Village Improvement Association is providing funds for both projects.


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