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A cold snap throughout the region early this week put a spotlight on the urgent need for shelter, especially for those who are experiencing homelessness. In southern Delaware, the need was especially sharp for an area with fewer resources for people looking for shelter.
To help fill the void in Sussex County, The Shepherd’s Office was founded in 2019 to help provide daily essentials like warm meals and clothing. The group also offers its office as an address people experiencing homelessness can use to get back on their feet. As the weather turned colder this week, the office also served as a shelter for women looking for a warm place to spend the night.
“There is a homeless cold weather shelter for men right down the street at the Georgetown Presbyterian Church. They had difficulty with housing both men and women and they decided that they just couldn’t handle those sexes at the same time,” said Jim Martin, president and director of Shepherd’s Office. “They decided that they would focus just on men and that left a great need for the ladies.”
Martin said the lack of a place for women demonstrates the shortage of services in Georgetown and Sussex County as a whole.
“We decided to step up to the plate and do what we could because yesterday was the first time that it fell below 30, and then tonight’s supposed to be 25 and the wind chill is going to bring it down to 17,” he said. “Right now, [there are] about 200 people that live in the woods all around Georgetown and probably half are ladies.”
Monday night, the small house provided shelter for four women, but the space has a capacity of only 14 people. Frontline workers foresee an increase in numbers, as word of an available shelter is “gonna spread like wildfire.”
‘It’s a tsunami of homelessness’
Delaware’s homelessness crisis is a “tsunami,” Martin said.
“It is a complete disaster, as far as the homelessness problem in Delaware, absolutely a complete disaster, and I’m on the front lines every day, and I see it. It’s a tsunami of homelessness right now,” he says. Delaware’s Continuum of Care found 1,255 people experiencing homelessness in its 2023 Point-In-Time report.
Martin has experienced homelessness himself, and said he empathizes with those striving to rebuild their lives. He calls it a humanitarian issue.
“I guess it’s gonna take people dying out here and freezing to death. I mean people have been dying out here, freezing to death, and it doesn’t seem to change anything,” he said. “Maybe that’s the big plan, that our people in charge of our country, is [for] the weak people to let them die.”
Without better support from the government, he said it’s the community’s responsibility to uplift each other.
“They’re still human beings. I mean dogs and cats, they find a place for them when it’s freezing outside, but human beings it’s like they don’t care about them, that’s really what’s happening,” he said. “We really have to come together. I’m just a little guy out here doing my best. I don’t have a social work degree. I used to be a carpenter. We need the professionals to step up, we need the elected leaders to step off and provide some guidance on all this and provide some places. We need emergency places set up.”
He said people who want to help can keep a supply of “blessing bags” in their cars. He said the bags can be filled with vital supplies such as flashlights, batteries, toothpaste, and food to give to those who may be in need.
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