CODE PURPLE: Homeless in winter focus of faith-based coalition

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SUSSEX COUNTY — Autumn will soon give way to winter and freezing temperatures.

In Sussex County, a faith-based effort is gearing to turn up the heat – temporarily – for those who are homeless.

Through non-profit LOVE (Love In The Name of Christ) Inc. of Mid-Delmarva, a network of churches will open their sanctuaries as Code Purple shelters, usually when night-time temperature is forecast to dip below the 32-degree freezing mark.

“Several years ago we saw a spike in the homeless situation and we weren’t able to find resources for those in Sussex County that were homeless,” said Susan Kent, LOVE Inc. executive director. “We contacted all of the resources and we found that there was no shelter available and folks were outside in the very cold.”

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Sussex County Council donated $10,000 to the Code Purple shelter effort to assist LOVE Inc. Mid-Delmarva, the Sussex County Homeless Coalition and churches provide temporary stays for the homeless on cold nights. From left: County Councilwoman Joan Deaver, County Councilman George Cole, LOVE Inc. Executive Director Susan Kent, Code Purple Director Nikki Gonzalez, Code Purple Co-Director Vikki Prettyman and County Council members Michael Vincent and Rob Arlett.

“We learned about what is called Code Purple and last winter a group of people who have been doing grassroots Code Purple came together as a grassroots initiative and started a coalition; that coalition is called the Sussex County Homeless Coalition. We worked together as a coalition to solve the homeless situation,” said Ms. Kent. “Churches have opened their sanctuaries, not as a shelter but as a temporary stay for folks to … give them another chance for the next day. We have Code Purple shelters all over the county now. We are very excited and happy to have that because we did not have that resource before.”

“All of us I think are one decision away from being homeless – in many ways. We’re grateful for what you are doing,” said County Councilman Rob Arlett, who asked for statistical data.

“Honestly, mental illness and addiction are top of the list. These people that come to Code Purple (shelters) are released to us from hospitals, released to use from detoxes and released to us from jail,” said Code Purple Executive Director Nikki Gonzalez. “It’s like we are an appropriate place to be released. I have difficulty with that. However, it is what it is. We are glad to be open. And we need a little overhaul of the system of how people get released back into homelessness. It’s a vicious cycle. You see them come from detox over and over again. You see them come out of Dover Behavioral, you see them come out of Kirkwood right straight to a shelter where there are active users and there is no way to separate them.”

Based on statistical data from last year, Ms. Kent said homelessness in Sussex appears to be more prominent than in neighboring Kent County.

“We were very concerned when we saw that our average was running about 90 in Sussex County,” said Ms. Kent. “We also work very closely and watch what is happening in Kent County as well. They posted one night that they had the most they had ever had … it was 56. So we were very concerned about the fact that Sussex county was averaging 90 literally homeless attending the Code Purple last year.”

“We need more resources in Sussex County,” said Ms. Gonzalez.

“Thank you very much for all you do,” said County Council President Michael Vincent, R-Seaford. “I know last year you came to council and we talked about that issue and helped you a little bit. And we’re going to help you again this year.”

With that, Sussex County Council at its Nov. 16 meeting supported the cause with $10,000.

Last year, County Council’s contribution was $11,000.

Sussex County Code Purple shelters include:

  • Georgetown Presbyterian (344-1912 or 856-6842): sanctuary is open for extreme weather and not held to a certain temperature. Phone in advance;
  • Cape Region Haven, Milton (249-6783 or 664-1336): open five days a week for any male;
  • Soul Ministry, Bethany Beach 632-4289: sanctuary operates daily for men and women with support from South East Ministirum;
  • Pathway Shelter, Stein Hwy. Church of God Lighted Pathway: If the low is forecasted to be at or below 32 degrees the sanctuary opens for emergency shelter for the homeless. Intake is at 7 p.m.;
  • Laurel Nazarene: Men only. Intake is at 7 p.m.; shelter is closed Wednesdays;
  • Gateway Fellowship, Bridgeville (519-0024); women and children only;
  • Milford Multicultural Center: Milford (Sussex County Hotline 725-0770); women and children only. Executive Director, Lisa Davis operates this shelter and can be contacted by either Sussex County Hotline or Kent County Hotline or you may call the center at 302-725-0770.
  • Mount Olivet United Methodist Church (519-0024); open for full intact families; check-in at 7 p.m.;
  • Rehoboth CRC (227-1340); open to the homeless during the day.

In voluntary roles, Ms. Gonzalez and Vikki Prettyman, Code Purple co-director, handle the in-take and monitor the Code Purple Hotline 24/7.

“They do the work. They are there at nightly,” Ms. Kent said.

Arrangements to stay at shelters can be made by calling the Code Purple Hotline at 519-0024. Additional information on Code Purple in Sussex and the shelters is available at:

“You volunteers; thank you very, very much … for everything you are doing,” said County Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Lewes. “It is very important,”

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