WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — A fledgling Delaware nonprofit’s efforts to address homelessness with temporary shelter villages are progressing in Sussex County and could become a statewide solution.
“Our vision is to build across state,” said Judson Malone, Springboard Collaborative co-founder and director. “We think we have a provable model that actually has a solution to homelessness.”
Malone lives in Georgetown with his wife, Town Councilwoman Christina Diaz-Malone, while co-founders Jeff Ronald and Christine Hanna-Ronald live in Hockessin. They formed the organization last year.
The Georgetown Town Council passed a resolution Oct. 27 allowing Springboard to build and manage a temporary shelter village (similar to a tiny home village). Conley’s Church, in the Angola area of Lewes, has offered their property for a second village.
Springboard still has to acquire land in Georgetown, but Malone said they’re in talks to build on a property in the area of North Railroad Avenue.
Construction on a 32-shelter village for adults over the age of 21, as well as a bathhouse and a community building, could begin as early as May 2022.
The situation in Lewes is a bit different. On the grounds of Conley’s Church, off Jolyns Way and Camp Arrowhead Road, Springboard hopes to accommodate families in 16 shelters.
Because the church property isn’t within a municipality, they’ll have to apply for a conditional use permit with the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission, which requires a public hearing.
“We’re delaying applying, even though the county and council members I’ve talked to have indicated they’re very receptive,” Malone said. “We’re trying to be very transparent. We don’t expect we’ll convince everyone, but we don’t want to be accused of trying to sneak something past the commission.”
Malone said Springboard hopes to submit its application in December.
WHAT WOULD THE VILLAGE LOOK LIKE
Springboard will use shelters designed by an Everett, Washington, company called Pallet, named for how the shelters are shipped.
They’re framed with aluminum and the panels are made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic with a foam-insulating core, according to the company’s website.
Like a traditional house, Pallet shelters are temperature-controlled, weather-resistant and lockable, but they can be assembled in less than an hour and cost as low as $5,500.
They’re not quite tiny houses, though. Pallet shelters do not have plumbing, kitchens or bathrooms, and that’s because they’re meant to be temporary shelters. In typical Pallet villages, there are shared bathhouses, laundry facilities and eating areas.
There are 55 Pallet villages nationwide, according to the website. The majority of them are on the West Coast, but there are a handful in the Midwest, too.
Georgetown, the group says, will be the first East Coast town to host a Pallet village if all goes according to plan, but the general idea is picking up speed at varying rates across the country. While a tiny home village never made it to fruition in Dover, Salisbury announced a housing initiative plan in September.
Springboard is working with Horizon Philanthropic to obtain funding.
Because there’s no state money involved, they won’t have to go through the state’s centralized intake system to offer people shelter, according to Malone. This will allow Springboard to focus on groups and individuals of their choosing.
“In Georgetown, we’re trying to address the worst cases, the chronically homeless living in tents in woods,” Malone said. “In Lewes, we’re trying to address families with children. According to a recent survey, that demographic is primarily single women.”
The key to Springboard’s plan is a full-time community engagement coordinator, who will build relationships with residents and assist them in using available resources to obtain permanent housing.
While plans are still coming together for Lewes, Georgetown’s village will be fully fenced with a main entrance, an emergency vehicle entrance and an alarmed emergency exit. It will be monitored by staff 24 hours a day and include security lighting and cameras.
Springboard’s Ronald stressed the significance of the housing crisis’s role in homelessness. Pallet villages are just part of the solution, he said.
The next step is tiny house communities.
“Our long-term vision and a core part of our mission is to bring permanent tiny home communities to Delaware,” he said. “But we know it’s gonna take a couple years to raise the money and change the zoning laws.”
Springboard is eyeing a site off Route 13 in Wilmington for its first tiny house village but doesn’t yet have a timeline.