Homeless women's shelter a need in Cape Region

St. Jude Code Purple volunteers working to secure temporary, emergency location
November 3, 2023

When Mike Agnew and his fellow St. Jude the Apostle Church parishioners see a need, they work to get it fulfilled.

After a successful first year as a Code Purple shelter at the Lewes church last winter, Agnew is on a mission to establish a single women's homeless shelter in eastern Sussex County.

The St. Jude shelter was for men only, and currently there are no single women's shelters in the area. The closest shelters for women are in Seaford and Milford.

Code Purple Mid-Delmarva shelters are open nightly from Dec. 1 through March 15. St. Jude is open from 8:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. at the Parish Life Center.

Code Purple is administered by Love INC, based in Seaford, with six shelters in Seaford, Lewes, Georgetown and Milford.

Love INC had 2,800 bed nights in its Code Purple shelters this past winter. Agnew said 1,200 were at the St. Jude shelter, or 40% of the total.

Finding homeless women

The shelter uses a donated DART paratransit bus to transport men from the Walmart parking lot each night and then to the Community Resource Center in Rehoboth Beach for services during the day. Bus passes are also given to men at the shelter.

“Unsheltered women with children can get a room at the Red Mill Inn, but there is no Code Purple or any other shelter for single women in the area,” Agnew said. “I wasn't sure how many homeless women there are in the area, because most are hiding in plain sight.”

Toni Short, founder of Lighthouse for Broken Wings, provides temporary hotel rooms for the homeless, focusing on families and women with children.

When Agnew asked some of the men who frequented the St. Jude shelter last winter, they came up with nine women they knew were sleeping in tents or couch surfing, which is moving from place to place.

“I had some names and then a 10th woman called me,” Agnew said. “It's not so easy because it's a little more complicated than dealing with men.”

Looking for a location

He said a committee of women is looking for a group or church to step up and offer space for a shelter. Thanks to St. Jude's network of volunteers and donors, they can provide all seed money, beds, supplies and volunteers if needed.

“We have a model to work from, and we already have a houseful if we can find a place,” he added. “We are getting the word out quickly to explain how a shelter works. All that is needed is a warm place with a restroom. Preferably it would be a faith-based shelter, but it doesn't have to be.”

Agnew said if a location can't be found, they will look for sponsors to provide donations for hotel rooms.

Agnew said the vacant Delaware State Police Troop 7 building is an option. It housed a Code Purple shelter during the winter of 2021-22, but major renovations would be required.

A community effort

Last winter, the St. Jude shelter housed 40 different men, with 12 every night. More than 80 volunteers staffed the shelter or helped in its mission.

Agnew said shelter volunteers are working to provide hot meals and fresh fruit this winter. Members of Bethel United Methodist Church have committed to a meal every Monday night, St. Jude on Wednesday nights and Village Improvement Association of Rehoboth Beach on Thursday nights.

Several organizations, church groups and youth groups help support the shelter, including Sussex Cyclists, which donates bike parts, helmets and lights, and Lewes Cycle Sports, which donates 20 hours of labor a week to repair bikes.

St. Jude has started a food and laundry ministry to support the shelter. Ocean Suds II in Rehoboth Beach washed 1,300 pounds of clothing and bed linens free of charge last winter.

“We have a great community of people who want to help their neighbors,” Agnew said.

St. Jude will host a volunteer training session at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 9. Agnew said more than 100 people have expressed interest in volunteering this year.

Housing an issue

Agnew said they have success stories with men finding jobs and places to live, but there is still a severe shortage of affordable rental units.

Even with a job, Agnew said, men at the shelter are struggling to find affordable housing in the area. “Most are forced to live in tents in wooded areas near Route 1,” he said.

“God called me to do this. The team we have is very supportive, and the rewards are terrific. People have been changed by this,” Agnew said. “The volunteers know the men who stay at the shelter, and they have a different perspective of what homelessness is.”

For more information, contact the St. Jude shelter at


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