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This page offers all of Delaware Public Media's ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it is affecting the First State. Check here regularly for the latest new and information.

Homelessness advocates seek help from state amid coronavirus outbreak

Tom Byrne, Delaware Public Media

Organizations that coordinate services for those experiencing homelessness are calling on the Governor to develop a plan to handle a spread of coronavirus inside shelters.

Representatives of the Continuum of Care, a statewide coalition of organizations working to end homelessness, wrote a letter to Gov. John Carney Friday asking for “urgent” assistance during the COVID-19 crisis. 


The letter signed by Board Chair of the Continuum of Care Carrie Casey and Housing Alliance Delaware executive director Rachel Stucker notes many homeless people are at high medical risk and are unable to self-isolate — and predicts as more day centers and shelters close, those people may be left with nowhere to go. 

The letter calls for increased and alternative shelter capacity overall, support for shelters stocking food and supplies, as well as safe options for homeless people with symptoms of the new coronavirus.

Stucker says she surveyed a variety of service providers about how they’re handling the virus outbreak.

“We are concerned at any given time if there were to be a positive case in one of the shelters, whether it be staff or workers, we’re going to see— I think not a matter of if, I think it’s a matter of when— we’re going to see shelters needing to close down, and we need a plan as a state and as a community what is the recourse for those folks, where do they go?” she said.

Some long-term shelters are working to prepare a space where a resident with the virus could be quarantined on-site. 

Sojourner’s Place, a 50-bed long-term shelter with case management services, has suspended new intake, but intends to stay open. Director Robyn Beck-Gott says she has a plan for if a resident comes down with the virus. 

“In the event that I have someone that should test positive, I have designated a specific place on the far side of the building,” she said. “But at this point I’m praying that it doesn’t happen. So I’m just taking all the precautions just by restricting the amount of people who are coming in and out of the building daily.”

Beck-Gott supports the Continuum of Care’s request for resources like cleaning supplies and increased access to state-funded hotel vouchers. 

A Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson said Thursday the state is working on a plan to support the homeless in terms of shelter and “wraparound” services — and will alert community partners to the play as soon as details are available.

Gov. John Carney's fifth modification to his emergency declaration issued Sunday states, "Individuals experiencing homelessness are strongly urged to find shelter, and government agencies are urged to take steps needed to provide shelter for those individuals, in accordance with CDC guidance. Homeless individuals are otherwise not subject to this shelter in place order."

Several day programs that serve those experiencing homelessness closed due to social distancing guidelines this week. Libraries and restaurants where homeless people can seek refuge and basic services during the day have also closed.

In an effort to mitigate effects of the closures on people experiencing homelessness, two bathroom and handwashing stations were installed in the City of Wilmington Saturday morning.


The stations are funded by the City and New Castle County government with $2,500 of Community Development Block Grant money, according to spokesperson for the New Castle County Executive’s office Brian Cunningham. Cunningham says the two stations are expected to serve fifty to sixty people each and be funded through the next month. 

 “We do not know what specific actions save lives, but this one just may,” said County Executive Matt Meyer in a statement. “And we will continue to look for creative solutions to protect our most vulnerable residents.”

The County is also considering other locations for sanitary stations in the county, Cunningham said.


This story have been updated.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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