Seeds of Need

People’s Church aims to help Dover needy

By Mike Finney
Posted 5/9/24

DOVER — Sue Harris and the Rev. Dr. G. Derrick Hodge are attending to the needs of the Dover homeless, while also assisting other individuals in need of life services.

The two are …

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Seeds of Need

People’s Church aims to help Dover needy


DOVER — Sue Harris and the Rev. Dr. G. Derrick Hodge are attending to the needs of the Dover homeless, while also assisting other individuals in need of life services.

The two are spearheading an effort to revitalize the historic People’s Church of Dover at 46 S. Bradford St. and transform most of it into the People’s Community Center that serves those less fortunate in the downtown area.

“It’s just family that needs help,” said Ms. Harris, of those individuals in need. “People have to realize these are folks no different than anyone in your family that just needs a little bit of help — a little hands-up.”

The People’s Community Center is trying to raise $4.5 million in grant funding and donations to renovate a the 115-year-old building that sits adjacent to the Dover Fire Department downtown.

“The (People’s Church) congregation’s vision is to convert two-thirds of the building into a workable, welcoming space for community-based organizations and programs ... for downtown residents,” the Rev. Hodge said. “There’s such an urgent need.

“There are zero parks downtown, no youth recreational opportunities, nothing for the children to do until their parents come home — and sometimes even then there’s still no dinner waiting for them.”

The four centers that will comprise the People’s Community Center have been organizing local partners and accessing funding for pilot programs to address the neighborhood’s most critical problems.

However, the building needs upgrades before their vision can be fulfilled.

Becker Morgan design firm has already drawn up the plans, but the nonprofit center must wait for the funding to come through.

“The building has to be accessible to people with limited mobility, so that includes an elevator that can go to all four floors, (Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliant restrooms, ADA accessible on three of the floor floors and a building-wide HVAC system,” the Rev. Hodge said. “The boiler and radiators will be pulled out for a more energy-efficient system, and other things such as a plumbing and electrical system overhaul and a fire suppression system.

“We wanted the building to be useful again, and empty rooms and a crumbling building are not useful.”

Programs set to take place

Stakeholders who founded the People’s Community Center have already committed $500,000 to develop pilot programs, but public and private funding is needed to renovate the physical space and expand programs for the four centers.

“The architects and engineers have said you don’t want to do it piecemeal. You want to wait until you have the whole thing,” said the Rev. Hodge.

In its infancy, the community center is divided into:

• The Center for Neighbors in Need, which addresses food insecurity, homelessness, unemployment, despair and addiction; access to basic health care; and personal and community health crises.

• The Center for Community Health, which focuses on providing help to residents for routine care, along with helping treat mental illness that exacerbates homelessness and substance addition.

• The Center for Children and Youth, which addresses a dual crisis of childhood development. Following the pandemic, many children are years behind their grade levels in reading and math and many lack supportive adult role models.

• The Center for Transitioning Veterans, that works with the Veterans Administration to address the needs of community members who return to the neighborhood after military service, but need help to reintegrate into civilian life, heal from the trauma of war and prevent homelessness.

“We also are in conversation with Westside Family Health to have a medical clinic on the first floor, because the nearest medical facility is a mile away, which is not walking distance for elderly people,” the Rev. Hodge said. “We need a medical clinic in this neighborhood.

“Everything is being done through partnerships. Everything we do is in partnership with existing programs or already established neighborhood nonprofits.”

Pressing forward to meet the need

Ms. Harris says assistance is needed to break the rate of poverty in downtown Dover.

She said 56.9% of 5-year-old males in the city live below the poverty line. Ms. Harris said education is critical to breaking through.

“The best part about (creating the People’s Community Center) is getting to know a lot of the folks that are out here,” she said. “There’s a lot of talent and a lot of skills and a lot of people that have lost their way, but you might be surprised what their way once was.”

She added that she does not consider it “her job” to help provide help to those individuals in need. She considers it a pleasure.

“The biggest pleasure that I have out of this is the vision that there’s going to be answers for these guys,” Ms. Harris said. “We don’t want more temporary beds. We don’t want to become another shelter. We need permanent supportive housing.

“We need the state, the city, the county, everybody to pitch in and create some housing, because there’s no way to answer any of these problems if they don’t have somewhere to live.”

“From a homeless advocate point of view, the (City of Dover has) done the bare minimum, if anything at all, to help solve or alleviate the numbers we have in our streets,” Ms. Harris said. “Helping us feed them and house them does nothing to address the problem as a whole.

“Affordable supportive housing is the responsibility of the municipality and the nonprofits’ job is to help them be successful in their housing. We are not responsible for being sure the citizens of a municipality have the appropriate housing available. That is the job of city government.”

Anyone interested in donating to the People’s Community Center is asked to contact the Rev. Dr. Derrick Hodge at 302-674-4177 or visit 46 S. Bradford Street in Dover.

Staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at 302-741-8230 or
Follow @MikeFinneyDSN on X.

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