Seven sanctuaries will be available this year in Kent County

For the fifth year in a row, Dover churches will welcome the city’s homeless during sub-freezing winter weather.

Two more, in Milford and in Smyrna, also will be part of Kent County Code Purple.

Founded in 2012, KCCP is a nonprofit. It relies on grants and community input to feed, clothe and shelter the hardcore homeless, people who do not normally go to or qualify to live in shelters.

Becky Martin is the all-volunteer group’s executive director. She once worked as a mortgage lender, but retired after becoming involved in Code Purple.

“It just touched my heart,” she said when she learned of the plight of Dover’s homeless. “I could not stand seeing people out there in the freezing cold. It didn’t make any sense to me that there was no place for these people to go.”

Code Purple operates only on nights when the temperature reaches the point that remaining outside can be fatal. In that respect, such facilities act more as sanctuaries than shelters, providing a temporary, no-frills respite from conditions outside.

The group has been bolstered this year by a $10,000 grant from the Potter Trust through the CenDel Foundation. They’re hoping to receive $3,000 from a community fund sponsored by Delaware’s General Assembly.

“We are so excited over that,” Martin said. “It’s something given only to nonprofits, and we were chosen as one of them.”

That money helps buy inflatable mattresses, blankets and other necessities, she said. They bought a heavy-duty, commercial clothes dryer to help clean bedding used in the various buildings.

For the first time, Code Purple will use some of the grant money to help its sanctuaries with utility costs from operating during the nighttime hours.

“That’s never happened before,” she said. “The sanctuaries always have opened their doors without any repayment, and we wanted to help them out.”

‘A bigger problem’

Bishop Nelson Lewis operates one of Dover’s sanctuaries in the basement of the Mount Carmel Church of the Living God at 117 N. West St. He was one of the first ministers to offer space for Code Purple in 2013. The church can accommodate 20 to 25 homeless men per night.

“It’s really been an experience,” Lewis said. “It’s made us more aware of the homeless, not just in Dover but throughout the country. It’s a bigger problem than we thought.”

Like all Code Purple locations, Lewis opens his doors at 7 p.m.

Church congregants offer hot meals, reading material, board games and movies or television shows. They also assist in finding work.

“We have our members involved with the workforce to see if there is anything they might need,” he said. “Some have lost their jobs and are looking for work, and we have specialists that are good in that area. We have other resources and also point them toward others who can help.”

Just before turning out the lights at 10 p.m., tables are moved, and cots set up with pillows and blankets. Each man gets a good night’s sleep while at least two male volunteers keep an eye on things.

Because they only are nighttime sanctuaries, once the sun rises the men receive a hot breakfast and then leave. The sanctuaries generally close their doors at 7:30 a.m., Lewis said.

Sanctuaries, not dormitories

Martin believes Code Purple has overcome a problem raised last year, that the church buildings were not equipped with sprinkler systems, a violation of Dover’ s strict fire codes.

Despite the warning, Code Purple continued to use the buildings during the winter of 2016, Martin said.

The city considered the churches as dormitories when housing the homeless. It took almost a year to work out a compromise, which has been set up as a Memorandum of Understanding between the city and Code Purple.

Code Purple has been able to continue work by defining the nighttime shelters as sanctuaries, she said.

“We were very fortunate, although it took almost one-and-a-half years to straighten it out,” she said. “We really worked underground a lot of the time because we were unsure of what the ruling would be.”

It’s amazing the feeling you get when helping the homeless, Martin said.

“You open up your arms, and you don’t just turn your back on them,” she said. “They’re human beings. I’m very strong on that.”

Kent County Code Purple always is in need of volunteers and donations of cash and supplies, Martin said.

To learn more and to make a donation, visit codepurplekentcounty.com.