The barracks in Cape Henlopen State Park. Rooms in otherwise empty hotels. RVs or buses. A rotation of services among the Cape Region’s churches. Senior centers that are empty at night. Those were among the ideas discussed at an emergency meeting called by Immanuel Shelter representatives to try and figure out what to do this winter for the area’s homeless population.
Less than two weeks ago, it was announced that Immanuel Shelter, a Code Purple shelter founded 10 years ago, would not be accepting men this year, but was still anticipating opening for women and children Dec. 15.
A week later, in an announcement Dec. 12, Immanuel Shelter founder Janet Idema announced there would be no Code Purple shelter in the Cape Region at all. Shelter representatives hosted the emergency meeting Dec. 14 at Metropolitan Community Church of Rehoboth Beach. Approximately four dozen individuals showed up.
Rehoboth’s Don Peterson led the meeting. He said he wasn’t there to rehash the past, but to move forward; to be a part of the solution.
“The question is, ‘Where do we go from here?’” he said. “It’s a situation no one foresaw. At this point, no church has said they’re willing to house these folks.”
Peterson said there’s definitely a need. In a typical year, Immanuel Shelter will see between 110 and 140 individuals throughout the season, with 30 to 40 regulars. For the past six years, the shelter has called Faith United Methodist Church’s fellowship hall on Oyster House Road home. Peterson credited the church for helping out for so long.
“They sacrificed their fellowship hall for six solid years,” he said. “At some point, it’s reasonable to believe it’s somebody else’s job to step up.”
A question raised multiple times is why the churches that make up the Lewes-Rehoboth Association of Churches weren’t willing to house the homeless.
Kathy Hughes, a volunteer who’s helped the homeless population for years, said LRAC is willing to give money to Immanuel Shelter, but for a variety of reasons the association’s churches aren’t willing to host people.
Metropolitan Community Church’s Rev. Elder Diane Fisher, who at the time of the meeting had been LRAC vice president less than a week, said if a rotation of churches could be figured out, her church might be able to participate. Speaking on behalf of MCC, Fisher said her church is used most nights as a meeting place for other at-risk communities – like Alcoholics Anonymous for teenagers or a support group for the local LBTGQ community.
Toni Short of Harbeson’s Lighthouse for Broken Wings called on the Cape Region community to find a solution. While people are home drinking their coffee and tea and eating their food in their warm houses, there will be people outside in the cold, she said.
“I don’t want to see anyone die,” she said.
Short said the area’s homeless aren’t going to leave the greater Lewes/Rehoboth area, because that’s where the jobs are this time of year. Work is a place that’s warm for these individuals; it’s a place for them to get out of the cold, so they’re not going to leave, said Short.
“Yes, some are bad. Yes, some are good. Yes, some are in between,” said Short, describing the area’s homeless population. “But they’re in survival mode every single day. Some have mental health issues. These people are not as bad as some people say.”
Idema spoke at the meeting. Primarily, she said, local officials know, and have known, about the situation, but she said, they say it’s a church issue, not a community issue.
At this point, Idema said, it’s time for people to ask as many people as they know who might have the ability to help.
“Like they say in New York, ‘Do you know a guy?’” she said.
In attendance were representatives from Community Resource Center, a Rehoboth nonprofit that helps homeless people by providing food, showers and laundry during the day. Eleanor Marchtmon, CRC administrative staff member, said there’s talk with CRC to extend the hours during the day, but as of now nothing has been set in stone.
Marchtmon said CRC’s winter services for the homeless began Dec. 16, with the hours of 8 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday.
In addition to trying to find a solution, Peterson said he was looking for a commitment from the group to put a lot of pressure on local elected officials – especially Speaker of the House Rep. Peter Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, and Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes – to make the case this is an emergency community situation that needs attention now.