It's a process that usually takes weeks or even months, yet the Cape Region Code Purple homeless shelter was up and running in one day.
Thanks to an outpouring of donations and volunteers, the temporary shelter at the former Delaware State Police Troop 7 barracks on Route 1 near Lewes opened its doors at 7 p.m. on Jan. 20.
“To have a shelter totally stocked and ready to open in one day is a miracle,” said Nikki Gonzalez, executive director of Code Purple Sussex County. “We had so much help today; we are so thankful. People brought in their own cleaning supplies and cleaned, mopped, swept, wiped down walls, coordinated donations and got bathrooms ready. It was amazing. The outpouring was phenomenal.”
Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, was among volunteers who started early in the morning to get the shelter ready. “The parking lot was completely full of cars,” he said. “The support from the community has been wonderful.”
The first order of business was to clean the rooms on the first and second floors of the building, located along Route 1 near Lewes. Donations, including food, bedding and other linens, and toiletries were also collected and stored.
Susan Kent, executive director of Love Inc. of Mid-Delmarva., which operates eight other Code Purple shelters in Sussex County churches, said the Cape Region shelter will be open nights when the forecast is 32 degrees or below. She said the temperature restriction is a stipulation placed by state officials on use of the building.
Other Code Purple shelters in the county are open every night Dec. 1 to March 15 regardless of temperature.
Lopez said the 32-degree restriction was a compromise worked out with state officials. “We had to fight hard to get this agreement,” he said. “We really had to thread the needle; we wish we could do more. There's a possibility this could change, but we needed this compromise to get it started. It's still an open-ended conversation. We'll see how things go.”
Men and women will be housed on separate floors in the building, which has men’s and women’s locker rooms with showers. A meal will be provided each night, and a monitor will stay at the shelter each night. Volunteers staff Code Purple shelters in Sussex County. Check-in time is 7 p.m. and check-out time is 7:30 a.m.
Kent said those who don’t work are invited to travel during the day, using free bus passes, to the Community Resource Center in Rehoboth Beach, where services for homeless people are provided.
Gonzalez said the goal of Code Purple is to give homeless people a safe place to sleep at night and also connect them to available resources. “It's hard to focus on anything else in your life when you don't know where you are going to eat or sleep that night,” she said.
Donations and volunteers are still needed. Blankets, towels, winter coats, hats and gloves, socks and personal care items such as soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste, are needed at the shelter.
Lopez and House Speaker Rep. Pete Schwarztkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, worked with state officials to allow the use of the building as a temporary emergency shelter this winter after Immanuel Shelter announced it could no longer operate its Rehoboth Beach shelter.
After more than three decades, state police moved out of the Route 1 building to a new Troop 7 on Mulberry Knoll Road near Lewes.
In addition, Immanuel Shelter is providing free motel rooms and meals for up to 20 homeless people each night.
Go to www.codepurplesussexcounty.com for a list of needed items and a volunteer sign-up calendar or call Nikki Gonzalez at 302-519-0024 for more information.