Solution needed for lack of shelter services

March 24, 2023

The Code Purple shelter for homeless men at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Lewes shut down for the season March 16. This means that, despite overnight temperatures still dipping below freezing, there is not a single overnight shelter available for unhoused people in eastern Sussex County. It should be mentioned that for unhoused women in eastern Sussex County, there was not a single overnight shelter bed available despite some horrendous weather through the winter. The men were each given a tent and a sleeping bag upon leaving the shelter on its last morning of operation.

Now, there is not a single overnight shelter bed for either men or women in eastern Sussex County. Homeless cats and dogs now have more services available to them than unhoused people.

To be clear, this is not a failure of anyone involved in the Code Purple system. In fact, the staff at St. Jude, the volunteers who provided meals through the Lewes-Rehoboth Association of Congregations and the staff at the Rehoboth Community Resource Center’s Day Shelter Program all worked very hard this winter to provide much-needed services to the unhoused. This was made even more difficult due to the record number of individuals served by the Code Purple system this winter.

The failure to provide an adequate shelter system for homeless people in eastern Sussex County lies distinctly with county and state governments, both of which, combined, have the resources to provide such services. They really need to step up these services, as year-round, properly programmed shelters have been shown to reduce emergency room visits (Medicaid costs), police/court contacts, drug overdoses and other societal costs of people sleeping in spaces not fit for human habitation. Well-run shelters allow residents to effectively look for work and permanent housing, and help them to generally get back on their feet. Common sense says it is difficult to get hired for any type of job or find an apartment if you have not showered for a week because you are living in a tent in the woods off the Junction & Breakwater Trail.

In eastern Sussex County, one obvious solution is to redevelop the old Troop 7 state police barracks at 18006 Coastal Highway in Lewes as a full-service shelter. According to an Adaptive Reuse Study prepared for the State of Delaware Office of Management and Budget, there appear to be no major physical obstacles to creating a homeless shelter at this site. The barracks itself is a large building that contains enough space to accommodate the homeless population typically found in eastern Sussex County. Additionally, it has bathrooms/showers for both male and female residents. The building also contains kitchen facilities and office space for any potential support staff. The property, according to the state report, consists of seven acres, five of which are suitable for development.

There are three acres where the barrack building is located, two acres of wetlands, and another two acres that are vacant but can be developed. To appease those that may protest the use of state funds for a homeless shelter, those two vacant acres could be sold, with the proceeds being used to fund any updates required to bring the barracks building up to modern code.

This is simply food for thought, but a solution to the lack of shelter services in eastern Sussex County must be found as the housing crisis continues and the number of unhoused citizens increases with every year that passes. We should be able to do better than a tent and a sleeping bag.

Dave Galdun

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