Georgetown leaders OK homeless village initiative

By Glenn Rolfe
Posted 10/29/21

GEORGETOWN — Housing for homeless on a temporary, modular scale — that’s the plan of a year-old nonprofit, which now has Town Council’s blessing.

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Georgetown leaders OK homeless village initiative


GEORGETOWN — Housing for homeless on a temporary, modular scale — that’s the plan of a year-old nonprofit, which now has Town Council’s blessing.

Mayor and council on Wednesday unanimously approved a two-year initiative brought by Georgetown community liaison Judson Malone and his nonprofit Springboard Collaborative: a plan to install a 30-unit modular pallet village to provide temporary shelter for the homeless.

“We have ignored this problem too long. I will be coming forth with a plan based on the resolution to address this issue. It will require a lot of collaboration with organizations in this town,” said Mr. Malone.

Georgetown Mayor Bill West was optimistic about the proposal, which would be a first for Delaware.

“I think, with this pilot program, we can get people cleaned up and straightened up, and we won’t have these complaints,” he said.

Council’s resolution — which said there has been a 35% increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in Delaware since 2018 and a decrease in homeless shelters and resources — authorizes sponsoring nonprofit organizations to use property owned or controlled by them for temporary homeless shelters, while preventing harmful effects, such as:

  • Use of open flames.
  • Impediments to emergency services.
  • Environmental degradation.
  • Use of improper sanitary facilities.
  • Any other factors that would be considered a nuisance under applicable laws.

Furthermore, the resolution states that clearing encampments causes people to disperse through the community and break connections with service providers, increasing the potential for infectious-disease spread.

Mayor West noted that this is a two-year pilot program.

“Two-year pilot … if it works, it works,” he said. “My biggest concern was, how are we going to stop the ones from Delmar, Seaford and Laurel (from) saying, ‘Georgetown is the place to be. Let’s go to Georgetown’? We know we are going to have some that aren’t going to want this program. They are going to say, ‘Heck with that, I want to live in the woods.’”

The proposed village, tentatively earmarked for property along North Railroad Avenue, will have supportive services and security “based on examples … (of) over 40 different villages like this, primarily on the West Coast,” said Mr. Malone.

More definitive information on a potential lease agreement and direction for the plan may be forthcoming in mid-November, according to Mr. Malone, who is the executive director of Springboard Collaborative, which attained 501(c) status over the summer.

“We’ve also aligned ourselves with the services Horizon Philanthropic Services to help with fund development. They also have a construction division,” Mr. Malone said. “To be such a tiny organization, we have some big strength behind us. Every indication from Horizon is they feel confident this is the right thing to do, and there is a lot of people in the state that will want to fund it — foundations, etc.”

He added that Horizon has raised over $110 million for their clients. “They know what they are doing,” said Mr. Malone, husband of Georgetown Councilwoman Christina Diaz-Malone.

While he only has ballpark numbers at present, Mr. Malone estimates that capital costs plus first-year operating costs will be about $1.6 million. He said his hope is that a substantial amount will come from the town, via American Rescue Plan funding. Support from Sussex County and the state are also being sought.

The possible time frame for the opening of the village is spring 2022.

“We know the winter is coming. We know there is limited Code Purple space. But there is just no way we can get this done before April probably. We’re going to do our best to compress it as much as possible but … ,” said Mr. Malone.

Mayor and council’s vote followed public commentary. One speaker was Lisa Fensick, who focused on the scope of Georgetown’s homelessness issue, which includes an encampment in a wooded area at the end of Douglas Street.

Ms. Fensick, an EMT and administrator for Georgetown’s American Legion Ambulance Station 93, said she and ambulance personnel frequently receive 911 calls to the encampment, which then entails an eighth-mile or longer trek through woods to what she labels a “tent city.”

“It’s absolutely horrible … living in tents,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of people in this town … know what is going on back there.”

Village pallet shelter project

As proposed, the project will encompass a group of sleeping units complete with security, support services, staff and counseling, “so that people who are homeless will have an opportunity to get stabilized and find a path to get (into) permanent housing,” Mr. Malone said.

With a lease agreement and all required approvals, it would be located on approximately 1 acre of land, near First State Community Action Agency on North Railroad Avenue.

The units, which would be provided by a company called Pallet, come in two sizes — 64 square feet and 100 square feet — with floor, wall and roof panels and a solid floor, so no foundation is required.

Each unit has a bracket system for as many as four bunks. Units are wired for electricity, come with fitted mattresses and have heating, air conditioning and an emergency exit, in addition to the main door.

“It makes a perfect solution for a temporary project like this,” Mr. Malone said.

While units do not have plumbing, plans for the Georgetown village include on-site shower/bathroom facilities, a community building and several office units. A laundromat is already located nearby.

The community unit would allow La Red and other organizations to visit for interviews and to connect homeless people with services.

“And we think these people who are recovering from homelessness will avail themselves to a lot of services that First State has of offer, and they will be right there, next door,” Mr. Malone said.

With 30 units, he estimates the Georgetown project could probably serve at least 40 to 45 people, all 18 or older with no children.

A sister project at Conley’s United Methodist Church that Springboard is working on is going to be for families, Mr. Malone said.

“My organization is also working on a similar village at Conley’s Church. We’re engaging the county on that and having to go through a conditional-use process,” he said.

Security will include fencing, a single-point entry (with a wider entry during emergencies) and a guard shack. There will be a check-in/checkout process and a curfew at night.

Provisions will be made for someone working a night shift, Mr. Malone said.

As proposed, the temporary shelter village would be the first in Sussex County, in Delaware and in the East.

“I think it will set an example for the state,” Mr. Malone said.

Georgetown gathering place

Mayor West said that The Shepherd’s Office on North Bedford Street has evolved into a gathering spot for the homeless.

Jim Martin, Shepherd’s Office director, said his facility is salvation for the homeless, hungry and lonely.

“Many (who) come for yard free events are families, getting the clothing and other household kind of stuff that is out there on the tables. Also, the hungry are sheltered in the community somewhere. They are coming because the food in their homes is getting low, and they come, and we give out family food boxes to those folks who have shelter,” he said.

But the goal, Mayor West said, is to get a list of those homeless who are residents of Georgetown “and take care of them. We’re not going to take care of the ones that are coming from other places. No! We don’t have room.”

Mr. Martin said he’s not sure if his clients are from Georgetown.

“I would have to do like a survey of all of our people to answer back correctly on where these people are coming from. I honestly don’t know. They are coming in every day, getting their free meals and free clothes. I would say 50% of the guests that appear on our property are from the Guatemalan community. They are living in Georgetown,” he said.

Mr. Martin said he hears things like, “‘My mom lives here’ or ‘I grew up here’ or ‘I’m a dad, and I am paying child support, and my son lives around the corner, and I want to see him once in a while.’

“Also, I hear, ‘I just got out of SUN Behavioral (Health). I’m from New Castle. I came down here. I grew up down here,’” Mr. Martin said.

Other times, it’s “‘I just got of prison. I’m from somewhere else, but I got in trouble in Delaware, and I served seven years at (Sussex Correctional Institution),’” Mr. Martin said. “Then, they navigate toward us for our free meals.”

Many of The Shepherd’s Office guests are actual jobholders, some living in their vehicles, he continued. “A lot of times, they want to be invisible. They don’t want people knowing that they are living in their cars.”

Mr. Martin said he and The Shepherd’s Office welcome the Springboard initiative.

“They are amazing. These people are super-smart people. It’s just incredible what they have been able to put together in just a short amount of time,” he said. “I’m more of a ground guy, on the sidewalk here, trying to find a bicycle for somebody. (But) they are thinking big.”

Mr. Martin said The Shepherd’s Office wants to work in collaboration with the town and the nonprofit.

“I do want to cooperate with them. I do want to get along with these folks. We’re all in this together, and we have a lot of poor people now and people that have nowhere to go. And it’s getting cold, too,” he said.

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