For the last five weeks, affordable housing has been a topic of conversation at Sussex County Council meetings, but not for the council itself.
A parade of citizens have stood before the council during its Citizens’ Privilege portion of the meeting to ask council to help the County’s homeless and work on affordable housing options.
Jim Martin of Georgetown’s The Shephard’s Office said the county needs a tiny-home village that could offer shelter to those who otherwise would otherwise be without.
“It would be a promising and cost-effective strategy for rapidly housing some of the most vulnerable county residents … and putting them back on the path of self-sufficiency,” he said at the March 26 council meeting. “Why don’t we find a way to build these tiny structures in people’s back yards and rent them out to the working homeless? This could be a way to chip away at Sussex County’s affordable housing crisis and the hundreds of unsheltered cases.”
Martin said homelessness is not a problem that has yet to come to Sussex, but one that has already arrived and isn’t going anywhere.
“Keep in mind these people are already in our community now, on our streets, in our parks, at our stores, restaurants, wooded areas,” he said. “Every hour outside means the risk of harm increases for these people. We can make the people experiencing homelessness safer and our communities safer, cleaner and more livable if we provide secure housing that they can afford on their low wages.”
Martin’s wife, Cathy, also spoke, stating that she has been an advocate for the homeless for years. As a younger woman, she said, she traveled to India for a month — an experience she said changed her.
“I saw first-hand, with my own eyes, what it’s like to live in a third-world country… I saw poverty that brought tears to my eyes and tremendous hurt to my heart. I wake up every day thanking God that I live in the United States of America, where we have the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; where we are free…
“If we, as communities, do not uphold the rights of homeless people and continue to ignore the plight of the poor, then we will see more tents and more beggars. Our country will look more and more like a third-world country. I am standing here begging you and speaking for the ones who have no voices. I am standing here saying, please, please put this important topic on your agenda. We have a housing crisis, and this is an emergency.”
Greg Lake of Clayton said he was homeless as a child, and believes the State of Delaware needs to step up to address its growing homeless population.
“Delaware, I’ve been finding, is way behind schedule. We’re supposed to be the First State. Why are we behind all the other states?” he asked. “No one should be left out. We’re in America, we’re in the First State — Why are we not acting like it?”
Patricia Cookson, who said she has been homeless since September of 2018, told the council that she lives in her car with her dog, adding that she needs the dog due to her atypical bipolar disorder.
“I’ve tried so hard to get housing for myself, to get a job for myself,” Cookson said. “I didn’t ask to be homeless, but it happened. I fear for my life every night.”
Cookson said she has had trouble getting help from Social Services, who, she said, denied her hotel vouchers.
“Please, I’m begging you — help us… Can you not just put one farmland aside for tiny houses? It would help us so much… We want a step up to better ourselves.”
Greenwood resident and County Council watchdog Dan Kramer disagreed.
“I’m going to stir the pot today… This homeless garbage is exactly that,” he said. “There’s no excuse in this world that they can’t afford to buy a house. Why not? ‘We can’t afford to pay over $800 a month.’ Well, guess what? There’s houses available for a whole lot less than that for sale. Go on the computer and look.”
Kramer said there are currently homes for sale between $25,000 and $30,000 in Sussex County.
“The problem with it is, ‘I don’t want to live there.’ Then guess what, go live in the woods. But don’t complain, because the houses are there and available. It might be a fixer-upper,” he said. “In all my life, we bought a brand-new trailer, and I’ve never paid more than a little over $300 a month on anything I’ve ever bought.”
The council did not address the topic, as it was not on the March 26 agenda for discussion.
The Sussex County Council will next meet on Tuesday, April 2 at 10 a.m.
By Maria Counts