Vincent to homeless advocate: Wait for consultant

Sussex County Council president urges Jim Martin to join working group
May 20, 2019

Homeless advocate Jim Martin of Georgetown is leading what he calls Tiny-House Tuesdays. He and others speak during Sussex County Council's public participation time about the need for a process to build small houses for the working poor and homeless.

Even when council didn't meet April 23, Martin held an impromptu rally for 30 minutes on The Circle in Georgetown to talk about housing issues.

After Martin spoke at the April 16 meeting, Council President Mike Vincent told him council will not take action on any housing-related topics until after recommendations are presented by a housing consultant, which is set to start work in May. “There is nobody who doesn't care about what you are taking about. We want to try to do this in the right way. There will be a number of solutions and ideas we are going to talk about with everybody, so you can be part of that,” Vincent said, adding recommendations should be presented by the end of summer. He urged Martin to volunteer for a working group that will likely be formed.

Martin said Michele Williams of Lewes would be a good chairwoman or at least a member of the group. Williams, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran, has a PhD in public policy and administration as well as an MBA. She spoke to council in support of Martin and his cause at the April 2 meeting. “I want to step aside because I don't have the expertise to handle something like this,” Martin said. “I do have the passion for it, and I'm glad to step aside and be a good soldier.”

Vincent said both of them should join the working group. A public housing forum has been scheduled for 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 21, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown.


Martin poses questions to council

During the April 16 meeting, Martin posed several questions to council.

• What is the first step to zone a county-owned parcel as a community for the unsheltered?

• Can we create a very affordable community for 200- to 400-square-foot homes that will meet the shelter needs of the working homeless?

• Can we create a legal way for tiny houses to exist within the current framework of zoning ordinances, land-use laws, building code and inspections? If not, what is the first step of making tiny houses legal in Sussex County?

• Will the council schedule a study session with experts and the public so that we can try to find answers as a community that cares?

Martin, who runs The Shepherd's Office in Georgetown, said the unsheltered in the county carry a heavy burden. “They feel rejected, they are exhausted, hungry, have a lack of resources and lack a place to belong,” he said. “I see the cruel punishment that exclusion, alienation and being outside does to a human being. People don't get enough sleep, and don't have regular access to enough water and healthy food.” Martin said the working poor can't handle a $500 emergency, let alone afford a typical house. “Thousands in the county are interested in living smaller. We lost our hope at being successful for a $300,000 house, which is way above our income level, but can we at least be allowed to live somewhere in our county?” he asked.

“Living is not having to commute long distances to work each day. Living is having a routine. Living is knowing someone is not going to ask us to move tomorrow,” Martin said.


Martin: Area for people living in cars

At county council's April 30 meeting, Georgetown homeless advocate Jim Martin asked Sussex County Council if he could use a piece of county-owned property in Georgetown to allow overnight parking for people who live in their vehicles.

After he made his plea, Council President Mike Vincent told him the property is in Georgetown town limits and the request must be made to Georgetown officials.

“That will be my next step,” Martin said.

Martin said there is an influx of people seeking work and working poor people who come to the area because of the increase in seasonal jobs.

“Hundreds of people are living in their cars at night because they can't afford a place to live. We are searching for a safe place for them to park at night,” he said. “This would be a legal car camping area for people who use their cars as affordable housing and shelter.”

He said only vetted people who are employed would be permitted to park in the area from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. May though November. He said volunteers would clean up the area, cut the grass and provide portable toilets.

Martin said 3 acres of the 29-acre parcel at the corner of Route 113 and East Trap Pond Road would be needed.