Dover committee will look at ways to help city’s homeless

Katie KazimirGovernment, Headlines


The city of Dover has a new committee expected to look at ways to help the homeless in Delaware’s capital. Photo by Timur Weber/Pexels

The mention of a small homeless encampment on Delaware State University property has led to the launch of a Dover committee assigned to find ways to help solve the problem in Delaware’s capital.

The first meeting of Dover’s Unsheltered Working Group will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7,  at the Dover Public Library.

Its creation came about during last week’s Dover Council meeting, after the three-tent encampment at Delaware’s only Historically Black College and University came to light.

It was followed with close to three hours of public comment on homelessness in Dover.

Dover Code Enforcement officers believe there are an estimated 40 homeless encampments throughout the City of Dover.

“A number one-tenth of that is still too much,”  DSU Spokesman Carlos Holmes.

The existence of the homeless camp was not a surprise to DSU, Holmes said. It’s in the woods on the far side of the campus, away from the students.

The university welcomes a look into the issue citywide, including possible solutions, he said.

“It’s not a problem that’s going away,” Holmes said. “The poor and homeless have always been with us since the beginning of time.”

Homelessness and the lack of affordable housing are big issues across Delaware right now. 

The Delaware House and Senate housing committees held a joint hearing on the issue at the end of 2023, talking about how the issues are entwined.

Among other things, the city of Milford is wrestling now with whether to put up a tiny house village for the homeless, a topic that spawned a four-hour meeting last week. 

And the city of Newark is sponsoring a series of virtual coffee breaks to discuss zoning issues related to that at 10 a.m. Feb. 13, 2 p .m. Feb. 15 and 11 a.m. Feb. 23..

“We have seen the growth of the homeless community throughout the city,” Dover Chief Code Enforcement Officer Eddie Kopp told city council last week.

“They are everywhere, north, south, east and west. They are on private property, public property, state property, city property,” Kopp said.

At the conclusion of public comment, Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and council called for the immediate formation of the Dover Unsheltered Working Group.

“It’s important we score a touchdown on this issue,” Christiansen said. “It’s not who scores it, but that it gets scored.”

Christiansen said past efforts to address the Dover unsheltered population included three blue ribbon committees. Those were groups of people independent of political authority or influence appointed to analyze a specific question.

Christiansen said their efforts were not successful because of a lack of a unified goal among committee members.

“Each group had their own agenda,” he said. “Several groups were going in opposite directions.”

Homeless challenges

Christiansen’s Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness in 2015 and 2016 had better results.

“We try to use that template to address civilian homelessness,” Christiansen said. 

The only way to make a dent, Holmes said, is for people to come together for the benefit of the homeless.

“You have to have the willingness to do that,” he said. “That has to be on all sides.”

The mayor said he will facilitate the first meeting of the Unsheltered Working Group and task them to find solutions for the homeless. 

After that, “the ball is in their court,” he said. “Success or failure is up to them.”

Appointed to the group are representatives from council, Community Development Block Grant, addiction specialists, housing specialists, church representatives, Tracey Palmer Ministries, Interfaith Mission for Housing, Habitat for Humanity, Capital School District, chamber of commerce, Code Purple, NAACP, Levy Court, financial advisors and taxpayers.

Christian said the diversity of the group working together should keep members on task.

“I’m not a Polyanna. Will we end homelessness? No,” the mayor said. “I hope being in this group, working with other people, they will be obligated to sit in the room and come up with viable solutions.” 

After the committee receives their charge, it will appoint a chairman who will report back to the mayor with minutes and notes going forward.

Information on the Unsheltered Working Group will be updated on the City of Dover website and Facebook as well as the mayor’s Facebook. 

“I think we will be able to take some of these folks off the street,” Christiansen said.

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