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After 7 months, Hope Center still welcomes residents in need, but focuses on ‘exit strategy’

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media

It’s been the better part of a year since the hotel-turned-homeless-shelter owned by New Castle County opened. Now its focus is shifting. 

When it opened last December, the Hope Center’s sole focus was getting unhoused people safe from the winter weather and from the coronavirus, as soon as possible. 

Now the goal is setting residents up with an “exit strategy,” says Carrie Casey, manager of community development and housing at New Castle County, which runs the Center. 

“Maybe there is a different step, a transitional program, that gives you more of that 18-24 month support people need,” Casey said. “We don’t see ourselves as that.”

Casey says the goal going forward is to have Hope Center residents stay for 30 to 60 days. But the Center won’t push people out if they need to stay longer. 

“People always say, once they’re here they’re never going to want to leave,” Casey said. “That’s really not the case. People want their own space, and they want to get back on their feet.”

The hotel can house more than 350 residents. As of late last week, around 320 people were living there, 150 of whom were children. So far about 38 households have moved on to permanent housing. 

Casey says the biggest hurdle remains a shortage of affordable housing in the area.

In the last few months, the Hope Center has expanded the services available to residents. Friendship House, Family Promise of Northern New Castle County and the State Service Centers lead the case management which Casey says is critical to getting residents to their next step. The County now has a contractor focused solely on identifying available housing units. The state Bridge Clinic also provides mental healthcare and help with addiction at the center, and ChristianaCare is on-site two days a week for medical care.

"It just revolves around a lot of wraparound case management, a lot of working one-on-one with the family to see what your needs are," Casey said.

When the County purchased the old Sheraton hotel along I-95 to turn it into an emergency homeless shelter late last year, capacity in traditional emergency shelters statewide was way down due to coronavirus restrictions. That capacity has partially opened up again, says Rachel Stucker, director of Housing Alliance Delaware. She says congregate shelter capacity, down to 50% in December 2020, is now at 83% capacity as of this month.

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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