By Liz Martinez
Alfonso Jones spent nearly half his life behind bars.
For nearly a year since he was released from Smyrna’s James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, he has been one of Dover’s homeless population.
Jones, 53, often looks longingly at some of Dover’s houses.
“There are so many old and empty houses here in Dover,” he said.
“We should get with the mayor, we should get grants, let us renovate the houses, and rent to own them.”
Jones said in order to help the homeless there needs to be more food, programs, and affordable living conditions.
William Farley, chairman of the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs, says Jones’ ideas are spot-on.
“(Dover) Mayor (Robin) Christiansen’s task force has adopted a program in line with those suggestions and is in the process of implementing those and other necessary programs,” he said.
Christiansen said many organizations in the community have the same goal of ending homelessness. The task force was created to bring them all together.
“We set up a task force that was bringing people to the table who had been talking at each other rather than to each other,” he said. “One of the things that has stood in the way of progress is getting everybody on the same page.”
But the task force did not tackle all the homeless at first.
“We all came up with a template to help house homeless veterans,” Christiansen said.
Since January 2015, 762 Delaware veterans have transitioned from homeless to permanent housing, including 235 of them in Dover.
At the end of April, there were only 60 homeless veterans in the state, according to reports by homeless assistance providers.
“We felt that it was imperative on us if we were successful at trying to end homelessness among our veterans, we might be able to use the same template to help our civilian population,” Christiansen said.
William Grimes, the neighborhood revitalization coordinator for NCALL Research, said the homeless are also making him rethink his business plan.
The National Council on Agricultural Life & Research Fund, Inc. (NCALL), which promotes affordable housing, founded Restoring Central Dover, where Grimes also works.
“We look to provide homes for homeowners,” he said. “But now we’re taking a step back and thinking maybe some of these properties we are buying could convert into group homes.”
Grimes, a pastor at Solid Rock Baptist Church, said his church helps feed the homeless and the men of Interfaith Mission for Housing.
“We are very interested in seeing everyone have a warm bed to lay in and shelter over their head,” he said.
Alfonso Jones is currently living at Interfaith.
“I’m going to school for my master’s degree,” he said. “I have a part time job with disability, but no home.” He said that Interfaith has helped him a lot.
“I do for the men of the mission before I do for myself,” he said.
Even with the church’s help, Jones said he’s struggling to get back on his feet.
“Rent per month is too high.” he said. “Lots of people won’t hire ex-cons, so it’s really hard not to live on the streets.”
Christiansen also said standard living conditions should be available to all homeless.
“We see a lot of homeless folks and their families out on the street,” he said. “In a country where we are as prosperous as we are, that is really unconscionable.”
Grimes said the fight against ending homelessness in Dover must be a community effort.
“It is just amazing to us to see how the community really rallies around the initiative,” Grimes said. “We all want the same thing, for everyone to have a wonderful and pleasant life.”