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Pandemic emergency shelter program ends with few places for homeless Delawareans to turn

A moving van in the parking lot of a Georgetown, Delaware motel.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
Participants in the pandemic emergency shelter program began packing their belongings, though many did not know where they would go.

The end of Delaware’s pandemic emergency shelter program Saturday left more than 180 households in a precarious position as winter approaches and backup housing and shelter options remain scarce.

In motel parking lots across Delaware Saturday, residents quietly carried boxes of belongings to their cars. The program that housed them and thousands of other Delawareans over the past two years is over, and for most, there is no other long-term housing available.

At a hotel in Seaford, front desk staff stood by as the lobby filled with families waiting for the rain to pass. Some planned to live in their cars, while 15 other households had pulled together enough money to stay at the hotel for a few more days. But a father standing under the hotel’s awning worried aloud that he wouldn’t find a place to go before the weather got colder. Living in a tent with his two-year-old daughter, he said, wouldn’t be safe.

At a motel in Georgetown, a newly homeless poultry processing plant worker who asked not to be named said the need for emergency housing in Delaware will only continue to grow.

“I was living in a sober living home because I’m in recovery, but things didn’t work out," she said. "My boyfriend was living with his mom, but she put him out because of bad behavior, so we came here. We’re paying out of pocket.”

Another resident of the Georgetown — a nursing home worker who asked to be called M — planned to use her savings to pay for a few more days in their room – at least until the rain passed. But when M approached the hotel manager, she learned her savings wouldn’t cover a full week.

“Going in there, you think you have the money – I thought it was $250, but I had $260 just in case. And then it was $300, or $290," she said.

Once her savings run out, M says she won’t have any clear backup. If she moves into a tent, she risks losing her children to the foster care system. “I don’t know what to do because I have two boys," she said. "And I literally have no family, so I just have to find something for me and the kids.”

“I’m your family!" her son replied.

“I know you’re my family," she said.

Another family Georgetown packed their children into their car and headed to Wilmington – the only place with available shelter beds over the weekend, albeit only at night.

Earlier in the week, Delaware's Continuum of Care submitted an application to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for nearly $9.5 million to fund an array of homeless services programs around the state, including permanent supportive housing units in Dover and Wilmington.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.