Category Archives: Homeless

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

Hope Center Update

In December, New Castle County purchased the former Sheraton hotel, now called the Hope Center. The vision was to welcome those experiencing homelessness into a temporary shelter for the winter. The county invited us to run programming out of this location, as we know the clientele well. We ensure all guests have access to food and transportation to their appointments and work. Our program also includes access to case management along with medical assistance, mental help professionals, and substance abuse counselors.
 
As of February 10, we had 166 guests filling 105 rooms. Our goal is to secure permanent housing for our guests and keep them from returning to the street. If you or someone you know could benefit from this service please leave a voicemail or text 1-833-FIND-BED.
 
We are always looking for more volunteers or donations. If you’re interested in volunteering at the Hope Center, please email volunteer@friendshiphousede.org. From monetary donations, click here to donate now!
 
Click here to read some Hope Center stories!

Hope Center Stories

Behind every face is a story. When you look at someone’s face, you can only make guesses, or judgements, about the story based on what you think you see. Is there sadness or pain in their eyes? How old are the scars? How many sighs or laughs have those wrinkles experienced? 

When someone shares their story, it can change how you see their face. We realize the scar was from a childhood accident. We learn the sadness is from the fear of an aging parent, or lost child, or of the future. We might learn the wrinkles are from decades of walking in the sun.

We decide what part of our story we share. This is why it is such an honor for us at Friendship House to hear stories – whatever part someone is willing to tell. When someone reveals a piece of themselves they are exposing more of who they are and becoming vulnerable. In response, we look at that beloved face with compassion: a gift we can offer back. When hearing a story with compassion, oftentimes you see the face as more precious, more loved, and more beautiful. We are all children of God on a journey to find home. How we listen and learn along that journey could affect how we see one another and ourselves. 

We have already experienced hundreds of stories at the Hope Center. We are honored to share a few of these with you. 

When we opened on December 15, we welcomed 73 people who otherwise would have come to one of our Code Purple locations this winter. One woman came without her husband because he was in the hospital recovering from serious liver issues. She cried as we did her intake explaining her fear he may not make it. She told us, “We have never been apart. I am scared to be alone.” We assured her she wouldn’t be alone and noted to check in with her daily.

A man came in with bottles of alcohol in every pocket. He looked ready for a party. “You can’t have that with you,” we let him know. He let it all be confiscated as he drunkenly walked into his new home. The next morning, he thanked us for this opportunity. He explained without the Hope Center, he was sure this would have been the winter he died. He’s 56. He’s been suffering from substance abuse for many years. He drinks so much that not drinking without medical assistance would likely kill him. Within a few days we had him connected to the DSAMH Bridge Clinic onsite at the Hope Center. Although it is not a straight road to recovery, he has been in recovery for five weeks now and he’s doing great.

One woman has been living in a state of homelessness for 25 years. She’s very capable of managing the basics of her life, but she is suffering from psychosis of some sort. She lives in fear that someone comes into her room and messes with her belongings. Regularly she will call us expressing her concern. We pull the key logs and verify with her that no one but her has been in the room. And, if someone was, it was to fix a light, her microwave, or to perform weekly housekeeping duties while she remained available to watch. No matter the convincing we do, she still calls us daily to remind us someone is entering her room unannounced. She is an artist, and around the holidays made beautiful picture frames from wooden popsicle sticks and wrote a lovely note thanking us for being so kind.

We have a family of eight at the Hope Center. The mother works downstate and early every morning she takes five of her seven children with her and drops them off with grandparents. Two of those children still attend school in person through a Maryland school district, who has arranged transportation to and from the grandparent’s house. The three younger kids are watched by grandparents. Her oldest two sons, both in high school, are at the Hope Center virtually learning. The oldest boy, who is eighteen years old, has access to a second car and will take himself and his brother to a local park to play basketball. 

The journeys of our guests at the Hope Center are all unique and special. It remains a joy to be their loving, supportive community during this difficult time as they find their way home.

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.

A Fearful Moment Leads to Grace: A Graduate’s Story

Eileen Taylor came to the Friendship House Transitional Housing program after she graduated from a program at the Salvation Army in February, 2016. Struggling to remain out of her addiction and homelessness, Eileen was determined, scared and just stubborn enough to overcome every obstacle.

While employed as a job trainee at the Friendship House Clothing Bank, Eileen applied for a position at BJ’s Wholesale Club. Although the position was part-time, Eileen was thrilled to receive the job.

Eileen worked hard on herself and at her job. Her part time hours became full-time and her responsibilities began to increase. Once she graduated from our program in January, 2017, she and another graduate shared an apartment for a year. Lacking part time experienced workers at our Clothing Bank, Eileen agreed to come back to help manage the warehouse. At this point, Eileen was self-sufficient enough to rent a place of her own. She was working hard, often tired, and going strong.

Then, in November of last year, tragedy struck; tragedy accompanied by a miracle. Eileen got home from work and was relaxing when a friend called and asked if they could get together that evening. Reluctantly, Eileen pulled herself together to go out. During that evening, the building in which Eileen had an apartment burned down due to an oxygen tank explosion. If Eileen had been home, the fire department said she may not have survived since her apartment was right next to the one in which the fire started.

We were all incredibly grateful she was alive and deeply saddened she had lost all her possessions, as well as her home. Eileen was experiencing homelessness all over again. However, this time, she had a loving, supportive community to hold and uplift her.

Friendship House Board members and volunteers donated gift cards so that Eileen could buy clothing (after she had gotten what she could from the Clothing Bank). As a graduate of Women’s Housing, Eileen was welcomed back into one of the Palmer House apartments, to stay as long as necessary. Thus, she had a roof over her head; she had friends to support her; she had gifts of money to feed and clothe herself. Mostly, she had time and space to recover from the devastation and trauma. A very special gift came from Mark Aitken, a good friend and supporter of Friendship House, which covered all of Eileen’s expenses, including new furnishings, when she was able to move into her own place.

Although devastated by her loss, Eileen remained grateful to God and to the many friends who helped her. She has been in her new apartment for several months and continues to work hard at BJs. In fact, her hard work won her the Employee of the Year award from BJs!

Eileen never lost faith in God or herself during this tragedy and has regained everything she needs. Without the Friendship House community, she would truly have been lost. To all of you who support Friendship House, we gratefully say, “Thank you.”

– Kim Eppehimer (Executive Director)