Give Them Shelter
Everyone falls upon hard times during this journey we call life. Some are more fortunate than others, having loved ones and friends capable of lending assistance. Others, those who aren’t so lucky, have only the community and the resources it provides.
To say our area is bereft of resources for those in need would be inaccurate. However, a community containing such wealth can certainly do more.
The Immanuel Shelter in Rehoboth Beach has been battling with the Sussex County Council to convert the former John Wesley United Methodist Church in Belltown—just outside Lewes on Rt. 9—into a 24/7 shelter for the homeless.
The county’s position on the matter has flip-flopped, thanks to the court of public opinion. Over the last year, Immanuel Shelter has been granted conditional permits to open the new shelter—only to lose that permission. One court rules and another overturns, keeping our homeless population in limbo—most of that population being Baby Boomers with some serious health issues.
Despite many promises from the Immanuel Shelter staff to carefully vet and monitor those using the shelter, people living nearby the proposed shelter site are still very concerned. Many of the local residents claim the area is pleasant and safe, and feel that inviting the homeless would compromise the area.
My question to those opposing is: “What would you have these homeless members of our community do?” The former church is an unused space in a great location—on important public transportation routes—for those in need of such services. Does a person without a home become an automatic threat to the community? I certainly think not.
In many cases, much like with any other stigma, it’s a very small percentage of a group that gives the rest a bad reputation. Have those afflicted with homelessness committed crimes? Certainly. On the flip side, plenty of comfortably-housed community members have also committed crimes. Is it fair to judge someone solely on their abundance, or lack thereof, of material possessions? Leaving others out in the cold with nothing is the type of thing that drives certain persons to drastic and unsavory measures.
An argument of “they can simply put it elsewhere” is entirely selfish and, in my opinion, moot. I say this because there is a space available, now. A space which can house more than 20 people per night. Should those people be left to sleep in the woods because of the flawed logic of others?
My house is less than a half mile from the Rehoboth Beach shelter and I’ve yet to hear my neighbors speak out with concern for the neighborhood. Nor have I heard mention of increased crime due to the shelter. Personally, I have walked by the shelter at nearly every hour of the day and have not once been accosted by anyone staying there. In fact, it comforts me to know there are community resources so nearby. If I were to lose absolutely everything, I have a place to go.
Many of us are so far removed from the prospect of homelessness that the sheer notion is inconceivable. Something tells me that many of those suffering with homelessness never imagined they would be in such a situation, either.
Homelessness should be a plight to which we all should be sympathetic. Shelter is considered as much a need as food and water. I don’t know how many of you have been stuck outside, cold and wet, but take it from me that it is a miserable experience. Granted, my experience was a product of my own doing, but that didn’t make it any easier.
Many say homelessness is a choice. For some, this is true. But certainly not for all. Even if someone has made some poor choices in life, much like I’ve made an egregious abundance in mine, I wholeheartedly believe they should have a warm and dry place to lay their head at night.
One cliché that has always spoken volumes of truth to me is: “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” This idiom certainly represents community. Communal wealth is not determined by how great the wealthy live but how well the community treats those in need of help.
If the time comes for further public forum regarding this matter, be present and speak your piece. Your words, your voice, they can save lives. Simply, be loud enough to be heard. ▼
Michael Marciano is a local freelance writer with a deep-rooted passion for the area. After a decade of grant writing, Michael is finally making a move into the literary world.