This story is from Young, Unhoused and Unseen, a podcast production from WHYY News and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting.
About 1,245 individuals were found to be experiencing homelessness in Delaware in 2023, according to the Housing Alliance Delaware’s Point-In-Time count, which includes a count of sheltered and unsheltered people on a single night in January. There have been 198 unsheltered people counted, which is a notable 28% increase from 154 last year.
This represents the highest number of people counted as unsheltered since 2008.
County leaders emphasize that the issue originates from housing, delving deeper into an affordability crisis that leads to homelessness. Yet there is a noticeable lack of resources, services, and an effective comprehensive strategy both nationally and statewide to tackle the problem.
“I think it’s fair to say that what we’re seeing is that it’s continuing to get worse and not better when it comes to people who are unstably housed and at risk of homelessness and becoming homeless,” said Rachel Stucker, the executive director of the Housing Alliance Delaware. “Delaware over the last couple of years has had a really, really high increase in the cost of rent housing that’s playing out where people just can’t afford to stay where they’re staying.”
The HAD noted a recent uptick in calls from individuals in need, actively seeking shelters or other essential services.
“At our organization, we operate the 1-833-find-bed number, which is the phone number that people can call if they’re in crisis and are looking for homeless assistance and access to emergency shelter. And we’ve had some of the highest call volume we’ve ever had. We had over 300 calls in one day this week, which we’ve never had before, ever,” she said. “And we’ve had days where we’ve had zero emergency shelter beds open to refer people to out of those shelters that we partner with through the program, which has also never happened before.”
Organizations such as HAD, along with other community-based shelters and groups, acknowledge the escalating demand for a limited pool of assistance resources.
The Hope Center, currently the largest emergency shelter, was formerly one of Delaware’s largest hotels with 192 rooms. The transition from hotel into an emergency shelter took place during the pandemic, making it one of the key shelters in the area.
Carrie Casey, the general manager of the New Castle County Department of Community Services, suggests that the Hope Center model could serve as a forward-looking example for the future of the state. There’s potential to expand this model to the southern counties, motivating the center to develop and present their sustainability plan in the coming months.
“I’d say, 60% of our clients are from Newcastle County,” Carrie said. “We serve the entire state if you can believe it. At times we’ve had up to 30% of our clients from Kent and Sussex County.”
“There’s such a demand for shelter, and we’re a referral only. So we take referrals from every state service center in Delaware,” she said.
According to the Point-In-Time count, more than 60% of the homeless population is sheltered in New Castle County, whereas only 15% are sheltered in Sussex County. The statistics point to a clear imbalance in the distribution of shelters and resources across the state. The majority of resources are located in northern Delaware, leaving the southern side with fewer services.
Despite the existing constraints in services and resources, Jim Martin, the executive director of The Shepherd’s Office in Georgetown, Delaware, stands with housing and homelessness advocates who firmly believe that the impossible can be achieved.
In his perspective, it all boils down to community and “spreading the burden around.”
“Have some blessing bags made up already,” he suggested. These bags consist of daily essentials such as snacks, water, batteries, and a flashlight. “It can be about you being out in the community.”
At The Shepherd’s Office, their charitable efforts encompass offering 300 hot meals in the evening from 4 to 6 p.m. Additionally, they distribute 300 brown bags containing daily snacks and utensils.
Like many other organizations, The Shepherd’s Office needs help.
“The people can help us by going to Walmart and getting those items that we need because it’s very expensive for us to put those brown bags together,” he said. “I would take a drive through your community and look for people trying to help other people and then that’s the group you want to get with. These are the people that are visibly out and about doing things.”
Advocates, with Martin in the forefront, encourage community involvement by supporting local organizations through donations of supplies, hot meals, or funding. Additionally, they stress the significance of volunteering in activities like cleaning, food distribution, or serving meals at nonprofits and shelters.
Martin highlights a crucial concern: the limited services for young people experiencing homelessness are even more restricted than general services.
For those looking to support young homeless individuals, reaching out to services such as the Life Line program at the West End Neighborhood House in Wilmington, Delaware, and foster care organizations like Children and Families is a proactive step. These organizations provide opportunities to explore adoption, fostering, or assisting a family in need.
The Point-In-Time count conducted by the Housing Alliance Delaware reveals alarming statistics — almost 27% of children under 18 and 5% of young adults age 18-24 experience homelessness.
Despite the heightened challenges faced by the youth, there are numerous organizations willing to assist individuals dealing with housing issues. The list below includes organizations committed to providing support and resources.
If you are experiencing homelessness in Delaware or don’t have a place to stay, reach out and call 1-833-FIND-BED (1-833-346-3233) or 211.
Below is a compilation of related resources and services:
Food distribution and other services
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