Category Archives: COVID-19

We Survive Terrible Circumstances Because We Have Each Other

Dear Friends,
We survive terrible circumstances because we have each other. This is the heart of community and what helps us feel at home. This was evident in so many ways these past 18 months. You assisted your neighbors by bringing them groceries while they quarantined. You supported local restaurants and businesses. You gave to agencies like Friendship House. This kind of support was also seen throughout the nation, and additional benefits were given to millions of Americans to avoid complete devastation.

People managed to maintain their housing and keep their families fed because of the financial aid offered through the COVID-19 Cares Act funding. With this additional funding people focused on how to make it through the worst pandemic we have ever faced. Shelters like the New Castle County Hope Center were able to open, while businesses and nonprofits continued serving. However, as the urgent response to the pandemic ceases, so do the benefits millions have relied on to keep them afloat.

Our nation is trying to move from surviving the COVID-19 pandemic to rebuilding and recovering. This will be an arduous task for the millions of people about to lose their Cares Act benefits. From the additional assistance they have been receiving from the extra unemployment benefit, to the moratorium on evictions, our community is about to fall off a huge benefits cliff. There is not enough of a net to catch everyone.

In preparation for this significant decrease in assistance, I am asking for your help as we prepare ourselves to grow the net. We are committed to researching which agencies have funding available, what other resources exist, and how much we have to give. The numbers of those experiencing homelessness have already increased – we cannot let these numbers continue to rise. Will you help us?

You can be the reason a family maintains a roof over their head while on the brink of another school year beginning. You can ensure our supplies are at record highs as people’s access to food decreases. Your donation will make the difference for someone experiencing homelessness to find their way home. You can be the answer to someone’s prayer. Please consider a donation today.

Your friend,

Kim Eppehimer
Executive Director

35% increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in DE – how did this happen?

You have seen the headlines, “Delaware has seen a 35% increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in the past year.” (Delaware Online article) (DPM article)

How did this happen?

This devastating increase is due to COVID-19 and our inability to understand how deeply the pandemic would affect our lives; from jobs to landlords and accessibility to services.

Let’s step back 14 months. It’s April 2020 and we are now experiencing the worst pandemic this country has ever experienced. Businesses are forced to close and people are told to shelter in place. It was bad. You were there – you remember.

This left millions of people vulnerable and fearful of how they would survive the pandemic physically, financially, and mentally. When in the midst of a crisis, it is very difficult to understand how to make the best decisions for the future. This is why we prepare contingency plans – almost every organization has one so when a crisis hits there are thoughtful protocols in place. Because when in a crisis you don’t get the luxury to stop and think.

Raise your hand if you had such protocols for this level of a pandemic? I didn’t think so. Neither did we at Friendship House. We had to think and act quickly. For us, that meant figuring out how to protect our staff while being available to one of the most vulnerable and often invisible populations: those experiencing homelessness. While we focused on this group, there were plans to help many other Americans such as stimulus checks and increased unemployment benefits. The problem with this plan is even though it supported what we would generally consider the “middle class,” it was insufficient for those living on the margins, on the brink of already losing everything. This specific group of people barely have enough resources to make it through a small crisis. Unfortunately, there was not enough support to help them through something as serious as this pandemic. They suffered exponentially.

Those who live on the margins include those who do not have a savings account to help in crises. They tend to use community resources such as food banks, libraries, and clothing closets to supplement their income. For many, they were the ones considered essential employees during the pandemic. They put their families or themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19. Some were so desperate to work even if their hours and pay shrank. Some people who fall into this category didn’t qualify for unemployment, let alone the additional unemployment benefits. For some they may make too much to qualify for state supplemental financial assistance, but not enough to cover all of their needs.

Many struggled to work as their child care ceased and school-age children were at home. In addition, some landlords were able to work around the eviction moratorium, especially for leases naturally ending. Many contracted COVID-19, lost their jobs, had extended hospital stays, and lost loved ones, too.

Fast forward to today. No wonder homelessness has increased. Those living on the edge of being ok prior to the first state of emergency announced on March 13 are now experiencing homelessness, many for the first time. They have lost their loving and supportive community as everything closed around them.

Sadly, many of them have been families which increases the number of children experiencing homelessness significantly. Families are now living in hotels paid for by the state – some have been there since last spring. They are stuck in a difficult system that is not designed for pandemics.

There’s not enough affordable housing available for these folks and there are long waiting lists for housing voucher programs. Not enough landlords are willing to accept residents who are part of state programs. At the same time, the number of people seeking housing and shelter is continuing to rise. These recent numbers as presented by the Delaware Housing Alliance should be a wake-up call (Housing Alliance press release). We, as a state and nation, were not ready for this kind of pandemic. Quite honestly, I wish we never had to be – this pandemic is heartbreaking, heart-wrenching, and unfair. But it happened, and it could happen again.

We have a tremendous amount of work to do to right the wrongs this pandemic has shown light on. And then we have more work to do in order to prepare ourselves before the next crisis occurs. Homelessness can’t be solved because crises will continue to cause people to lose their loving supportive community. However, we must find a way to lessen the impact when crises hit. There must be more viable options and fewer restrictions to get people back to stability. In addition, we must find ways to support those who are living on the margins: worthy people who are paid less than a livable wage, people who are criminalized because they are poor, people often marginalized because of their socioeconomic status or skin color (if not both).

This kind of work will take a committed, loving, supportive community. It will take collaboration and effort. It will require innovative and forward thinking. It will take courage.

We at Friendship House are committed to being part of the solution. By supporting the minimum wage of $15/hr, fighting against repercussions for people who can not afford court fines or fees, and continuing to fill the gaps where most needed, Friendship House is committed to ensuring every person has a place to call home. I hope you will join us.

Kim Eppehimer
Executive Director

How are we expected to move on from here?

It’s been more than 12 months since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Delaware. More than half a million Americans have died from this terrible virus. Millions more are suffering in other ways. Almost everyone has been affected negatively from COVID-19. This is the greatest and most devastating disaster we have ever experienced.

We have stopped shaking hands. Many of us use our arms to open doors. We continue to protect ourselves by social distancing from others. The world has never felt so unsafe. Half a million families have suffered the painful loss of a loved one, some saying goodbye through virtual means. Millions of people will be living with potential lifelong physical and mental effects from this. Kids and adults alike have been traumatized and lives will never be the same.

How are we expected to move on from here?

I think the answer is the same after any tragedy – with courage, faith, and hope. And it is those three things that have carried us this far.

Friendship House has continually modeled these three attributes: courage, faith, and hope. Our employees found the courage to show up every day at work to continue our life-saving and life-changing programs. Our employees showed faith when they had to work from home knowing they were doing what was best for the company, keeping themselves safe while serving our community. And we all kept hope in a better tomorrow.

We saw these three attributes in those we serve. Most recently we saw courage in the 73 people who agreed to move into the NCC Hope Center when we announced we could not offer Code Purple. These 73 individuals all lived on the streets in Wilmington, Newark or Middletown. Although frequently uncomfortable, denied respect, and wanting of so many things – they had created a system for themselves while living houseless. During the pandemic, it was made all that more difficult. When we asked them to move to the Hope Center, somewhere new and out of their comfort zone, they had the courage to say yes.

There was faith in those that came to our Empowerment Centers every day for coffee and food. They never stopped coming to us, even when we moved how, when or where we offered these services. They had faith we would be there for them. And because of their faith, we showed up every day, too.

We witnessed hope, alongside fear and anxiety, in every resident of our Transitional Housing program. They hold close to their heart this is the moment they will find a path forward. It is critical in that moment of vulnerableness we see in them the best version of themselves, and reflect that vision back.

There is so much hope on the horizon – hope enough people will be vaccinated we can start being together like we once were. Hope the vaccinations will be enough against the variants. Hope the economy will rebound. Hope we are doing enough.

In order to believe in that hope, we must have faith. Faith the scientists created strong vaccinations. Faith our community will get the vaccinations safely. Faith our financial decisions are the right ones for our economy. Faith it will be OK as long as we stay true to ourselves.

And then we must have courage. Courage to do the hard thing – courage to do the right thing. Courage to face the world – with or without a mask – and say “I am here and I am ready, Lord, to show up and be your partner in making it OK.”

This time of year is a time of transformation; a time for death to become life. Whether you believe in Easter or just the beauty of Spring, renewal and rebirth are all around us. It couldn’t be at a better time as we turn the corner to the end of this pandemic. We must remember the rainbow is always there after a storm, whether we can see it or not.

Together, as one loving and supportive community, I believe we can dig deep and find enough courage, faith and hope to live fully and intentionally in spite of this pandemic. I pray we all feel the peace and love of God as we journey to find our way home.

Kim Eppehimer
Executive Director

Code Purple Update

It is in our core values and mission to serve our community, fill the gaps, and walk with each person as they find a way home. Especially during the winter. Even during a pandemic.

FH has been part of the Code Purple network in New Castle County for many years and we knew this program would look different this season due to COVID-19. Our first concern was finding space large enough to safely house our friends experiencing street level homelessness. Quickly followed by hiring sufficient staff and getting access to necessary supplies. At the time, it felt daunting and an impossible feat. Then New Castle County offered the idea of hosting Code Purple in a hotel and asked if we would be willing to run the program there. We believe the only answer is “Yes!”

The model of transforming a hotel for emergency shelter and services during the pandemic is being used nationwide by several cities. It is a model that requires collaboration, significant funding, an open mind, creativity and love for one’s community. All of these things are at the table as we are actively planning to use the Sheraton on Airport Road in New Castle as our location for winter shelter this season.

Here is what we know so far about how this will work. First, we will run daytime and evening winter shelter out of the hotel. This winter shelter location will be open every day and every night, not just when weather drops below freezing. Being able to offer 24 hour/ 7 day a week winter shelter during the pandemic is a huge gift and opportunity for our friends living on the streets. As many of you are aware, their lifelines closed when the pandemic forced so many businesses and organizations to close their buildings. This will be made more difficult in colder weather.

We are anticipating a December 15 start date. We will pre register people who are experiencing street level homelessness for space in the hotel now, starting with guests who frequent our Empowerment Centers.

Many logistics remain outstanding. For example, how we will feed our guests in the hotel, transportation (day and night) to and from the hotel, and how referrals will work.

Many of you have asked what you can do to help. If COVID-19 guidelines allow, we will offer volunteer opportunities. We need hygiene items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap (regular and travel size). In addition, we will need non perishable food items such as bottled water and individually wrapped snacks (pretzels, granola bars, fruit snacks, etc.) As well as new socks, underwear, and winter items (coats, gloves, and hats.)

We also will need your prayer and patience. This process is only possible because we are working in collaboration with other organizations and the New Castle County city council. This is a huge undertaking, and one we are so honored to be able to do. We will continue to share information as we learn more and create a plan of action.

To stay informed about Code Purple, visit our Code Purple web page and follow us on Facebook.

Thank you for all you do to be part of our loving, supportive community.

2020 Reflection

2020 will be one for our history books. As we face the COVID-19 pandemic, destruction coming from so many storms and horrendous fires, racial disparities, and tension in our community and systems it feels overwhelmingly sad and heart wrenching. I often hear the word “maddening” to describe the current state of affairs.

And yet, I cannot ignore the abundance of gifts surrounding us.

One gift is my coworkers, who showed courageous leadership ensuring Friendship House stayed open the past eight months. They displayed compassion as they handed out hundreds of cups of coffee, not once letting the danger of getting sick get in their way of showing love through their masked faces and gloved hands. They remained a team, some even remotely, to make sure every need was filled.

Another gift has been you: our loving and supportive community. We hit records this spring in personal giving and with our Highmark Walk fundraiser. We hit records in donations of food to our residents and our Empowerment Center guests. You held on to your clothing donations until we were ready to take them. We asked and you responded, again and again. You loved us and those we serve even when you couldn’t be there in person to tell us.

This year could have caused us to hunker down, protect our assets and wait out the storm. Maybe even cut back and shrink to ensure no losses. Instead, because of our loving and supportive community, we responded to the cries of help with an abundance of gifts.

When we heard the cries of our community saying they can’t afford to pay for the most necessary items, we responded by expanding our Empowerment Center services. When we heard the cries of our community saying there is not enough affordable housing, we responded by growing and changing our Transitional Housing program. When we heard the cries of students in need of school uniforms, our Clothing Bank committed to get them the clothing they desperately need. All because of you: our worshipping communities, foundations, and businesses.

Another gift this year has been the gift we receive from our guests every day. Friendship House uses Jesus as an example of how to serve others. We are reminded of his call to action: when you serve the hungry, thirsty or homeless, you serve him.

When you open your heart during the act of serving, you realize you are the one receiving the gift. When our guests come to us for assistance like a cup of coffee, a room in one of our houses, a coat on a cold night, they are giving us a gift. Their gratitude and grace lets us know we matter, too. There is a powerful gift in knowing you matter. Each of us can give that gift, regardless of where you call home.

Friendship House believes the solution to homelessness is community. True community is when there is mutual giving and receiving of each other’s gifts from God. This is at the heart of what we do. Many of the guests we are blessed to work with understand that. So much so I sometimes wonder if we are mislabeling who is experiencing homelessness.

Homelessness is stretching far and wide this year as millions are losing their savings. More than 200,000 Americans have lost their lives in less than seven months from COVID-19 related deaths and that number is rising. There is a political divide greater than anything most of us have ever experienced. And still, this year continues to provide us gifts. You may have to squint hard to see them, but they are there.

It is through this mutual giving and receiving, with grace, love and support from one another, we will all find a way home.

– Kim Eppehimer (Executive Director)