DOVER — The Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing may be feeling like one of its tenants lately — practically homeless and wondering what the future might hold.
But Dover City Councilman Ralph Taylor Jr. believes he has identified a possible location for the agency, just south of the Dover Police Department — a spot he said will perfectly suit the nonprofit shelter and transitional facility for homeless men, as well as its resource center.
“We’re looking at the impound yard that is attached to the south side of the parking lot of the police station,” Councilman Taylor said. “Right now, it’s just a gated, open impound lot, so there’s no cover on it. There’s nothing.”
He said he will introduce his idea at City Council’s meeting Monday at 6:30 p.m.
DIMH’s chairwoman, Jeanine Kleimo, said she is not necessarily opposed to Councilman Taylor’s idea, but she is surprised by the timing of it, considering the shelter is exploring options for another site in the 300 block of West Division Street. Its current lease, at 684 Forest St., expired at the end of 2021.
“I told (Councilman Taylor) that it’s not my decision alone (to pursue the new location) but that we would definitely consider it,” Ms. Kleimo said. “I’m not opposed to it. I’m OK with it, if this is what City Council really wants. It’s doable. We just need an adequate place for a new shelter.
“I think it could be a really good location. I was not opposed. I was just a little surprised by the idea after all this time and what we’ve gone through.”
In recent years, DIMH has looked into potential properties on Walker Road and at 630 W. Division St., only to be shot down by opposition from nearby residents and business owners.
In November, City Council unanimously approved rezoning of three parcels of land downtown that could become the nonprofit’s home.
The properties are located at 317 and 319 W. Division St. and contain buildings that were most recently used as a motor vehicle sales and service facility. A third structure, also at 317 W. Division, had been used as apartments and includes a parking lot in the rear.
Following that rezoning decision, however, there have been rumblings that residents in that area do not want the shelter to operate near their homes either, according to City Council President Roy Sudler Jr.
That’s why Councilman Taylor feels he has found the perfect solution for DIMH.
“Consistently, what we have found is, whenever you try to move (the homeless shelter) into a residential area, the residents oppose it strongly … and I mean strongly,” he said.
“So moving it in an area where there are no houses, so we don’t have to worry about people saying, ‘Not in my backyard.’ Moving it to an area that ... is close to transportation — the bus station is right there. It is also close to the hospital, which is right around the corner. It is close to food. Food is all around. … It is an ideal scenario,” he said.
But there is a caveat to all of this, Councilman Taylor added.
“Let me preface it with this, … if the community (near the recently rezoned area) says, ‘Yes, we want them here,’ then this is a moot point. It means absolutely nothing,” he said. “But if they say, ‘No, they cannot be here,’ then we cannot continue to have Interfaith bouncing everywhere. We have to have a permanent solution.”
Time is of the essence to find a solution for DIMH, considering its now-expired lease.
“I do realize the zoning would not be an issue,” Ms. Kleimo said of the location near the police station. “If our board were to go with it, and as I said, it should be a board decision, I would want to sit down with Councilman Taylor and people on the council.
“Councilman (David) Anderson has expressed interest in help with the design of the new facility. I respect the council and would want their input. I would want to make sure that it’s the best solution for everybody concerned.”
DIMH serves around 34 men year-round and has helped more than 3,000 since the program’s inception in 2008, with more than 70% of them obtaining permanent employment.
The organization provides services for unhoused people in central Delaware, including education, addiction counseling, employment training, mental health resourcing, housing placement and public policy advocacy.
Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen has said it’s a priority for the city to help find a new home for DIMH — for now located in a building at Forest Street and Railroad Avenue owned by the Dover Downtown Partnership — because of the estimated 200-250 homeless people in the Dover area.
The mayor added that there have been serious discussions in bringing a light-industrial company to the present site of DIMH, which would bring jobs to the downtown area.
“I think it’s really important for us to continue to work with Interfaith to continue their mission of helping the homeless move to permanent housing and jobs and just to be taken off the street and deal with the issues that they have to deal with,” Mayor Christiansen said.
“I think we have a responsibility to participate in their relocation effort because we, as the Downtown Partnership and the city of Dover, granted them a lease for the (Forest Street) property.”
City Councilman Fred Neil has also acknowledged the difficulties with finding a new home for DIMH.
“I view DIMH as a regional facility that can be located anywhere in Kent County. As the capital city, Dover is a hub,” he said. “Finding a good location is very difficult because the building must meet the needs of the population it serves, while not being out of character with the neighborhood where it is located.”