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How New Castle County plans to operate and fund the shelter at the Sheraton hotel

Courtesy of Ten-X

New Castle County officials offered new details Tuesday on their plan to turn a hotel into a homeless shelter.

New Castle County cast the winning bid for the Sheraton hotel along I-95 in New Castle last month. The county will pay $19.5 million for it.

County government had ironed out few details about how it would operate the 192-room hotel when Council enthusiastically gave it the green light.

County Community Development and Housing Manager Carrie Casey offered more information to Council during a committee meeting Tuesday. She said the homelessness nonprofit Friendship House will use the hotel as a hub for Code Purple shelter.

“Because it’s winter— and even this week it’s going to be cold—we want to immediately begin winter shelter at the hotel,” Casey said.

The County plans to open the shelter by Dec. 15. First the County must settle on the property and do some construction on the building.

Casey said the initial operations will include 24-hour staffing by Friendship House, including meals, case management and transportation for residents. The state Delaware of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) will also open a mental health bridge clinic at the hotel on “day one.”

“We will have doctors, the ability to prescribe medicine, to help people with harm reduction for substance abuse,” Casey said. "We will have those up and running by the day we start."

Casey said the County will likely hire Hersha Hospitality Management, the existing hotel manager, to continue providing limited hotel services, including housekeeping, maintenance and front desk staffing. The building will run like an “extended stay hotel.”

The County is looking to hire a “social service anchor” to eventually take over providing meals, doing COVID-19 screenings and coordinating the services provided by partner agencies. Casey said the anchor will also handle intake and evaluating residents' needs.

Casey said the hotel will have cameras, Friendship House staff who will act as hall monitors and a 24/7 contracted security guard who will be unarmed.

“But we’re really looking at this as—welcome, this is your hotel,” Casey said.

Some county residents expressed concern about their tax money funding the project at a County Council committee meeting several weeks ago. Council President Karen Hartley-Nagle again raised these concerns Tuesday.

Councilman Tim Sheldon said unwillingness to spend County money on emergency shelter “irks” him.

“I don’t know if anybody wants to be homeless,” he said. “What are we going to do, just say, no, you die? That's the only thing the government is really there for. It’s not for this land preservation and all this other boo-hoo stuff. It’s for helping people that need help.”

The $19.5 million to purchase the hotel came from the more than $320 million in federal coronavirus relief funds the County received, and must spend by the end of December.

Casey said Tuesday that the first two years of operations should not require County funding. County staff have estimated a $2.5 million yearly operating budget for the hotel. Casey said this would largely be funded by the County’s U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) coronavirus relief money, which has a longer spending deadline, in the short term. 

The hotel will also receive per diem revenue through the statewide hotel voucher program, which Casey says is funded jointly with federal money administered by the state, New Castle County and municipalities like Wilmington and Newark.

County officials also plan to apply for public and private grants.

Councilman Penrose Hollins said he did not want to guarantee that County money will not be used on the hotel shelter in the future.

“I disagree with that premise,” Hollins said. “These people live in New Castle County. They’re constituents of New Castle County. New Castle County pays for an awful lot of initiatives for everybody in the county, and I do not want to see this population excluded.”

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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