Family Promise of Southern Delaware is making strides to help families keep their homes or apartments and not fall into the cycle of homelessness.
Since January 2022, the group has assisted 43 families comprising 56 adults and 111 children throughout Sussex County.
On April 1, Family Promise held an informational brunch at American Legion Post 28 in Long Neck. Board President Dale Smith and Executive Director Carolyn Kelly, who was hired in July 2022, offered an update on the program, and thanked volunteers and sponsors.
Smith said the group was formed via Zoom during the COVID-19 state of emergency. It's the second Family Promise in Delaware and follows a national model, with roots in Pennsylvania dating back to the 1990s.
The number of homeless in Delaware more than doubled from 2020 to 2022, and the number of homeless families with children tripled between 2021 and 2022.
Kelly said the southern Delaware program is focusing on prevention by providing funds and support to families facing eviction. They provide assistance with rental payments, utility bills, security deposits and first month’s rent to keep families out of shelters. They have spent $1,080 per family so far.
They also help homeless families seek housing, which is a struggle in Sussex County because of the demand and cost of apartments, Kelly said.
Kelly said there are no family shelters in Sussex or Kent counties, so homeless families are forced to either go to a shelter in New Castle County or live in their cars, tents or occasionally hotel rooms.
She said one family they helped with rent included a mother and her young children living in a car in the Lewes library parking lot. The mother didn't want to leave the area because one of her children needed the services provided at the Sussex Consortium.
“None of the people we have helped had planned on being homeless. All they want is to take care of their family,” she said.
To raise awareness of the plight of the homeless, Family Promise has held Night Without a Bed events in 2021 and 2022 in Canalfront Park in Lewes.
Kelly said there is a deficit of 21,000 affordable units. A person would need to earn $26 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the area.
Kelly said the least expensive one-bedroom apartments rent for about $1,800 per month, with higher rents in and around the coastal cities.
“We are only just beginning,” Smith said. “It will take a village to address family homelessness. Together we can lift up our families and protect our children.”
Bernice Edwards, executive director of First State Community Action Agency, said one of the biggest obstacles facing new housing for low-income residents is the NIMBY attitude – not in my backyard.
“We all have to work together and provide wraparound services,” she said.
It was noted that the Sussex Housing Group has started a YIMBY – yes in my backyard – campaign in the county.
Several attendees asked questions about the new Springboard Pallet Village for the homeless in Georgetown.
“It's excellent and awesome,” Kelly said. “However, it's not well suited for families.”
The 64-square-foot units are designed for one or two people. “The problem we face is there is no next step. They can't live in the village forever. Their next step is to something that doesn't exist,” she said, adding finding affordable housing and apartments is nearly impossible.
She said tiny homes could be one solution, but it would require changes in the Sussex County zoning code. “Talk to county council and your city governments about that zoning,” she said.
In Cape district
In the Cape Henlopen School District, there are 140 homeless students attending schools each day. Those include children from families who have been evicted, are living in motels, RVs or cars or who are doubling up living with family or friends.
Traveling teacher Stephanie Collick said the students are not identified, and if a student starts their education in the district, they remain in the district no matter where they are in the county. The district provides free transportation either via bus or van.
The district provides hygiene and household products, book bags, sleeping bags, blankets and school supplies to the children.
Kelly said Family Promise works with the Cape, Seaford and Indian River school districts. Each district has a homeless liaison.
For more information or to make a donation, go to familypromisesouthernde.org or phone 302-278-0020.