Community threads together hope for homeless

MILFORD — “This is perfect,” a mother exclaimed Thursday afternoon upon finding a gift for her daughter with several art projects inside.

Another shopper, Keisha*, found similarly “perfect” gifts for her children: sleeping bags, toiletries, blankets and a handful of toys.

Keisha, like other shoppers found at the old Milford Middle School Thursday afternoon, had a lot in common; they are classified as “homeless” by the school district.

“Every child wants a toy for Christmas,” Milford School District’s Visiting Teacher and Homelessness Liaison Craig Warrington said. “But we do have such a large poverty rate.”

Craig Warrington of the Milford School District takes toys to the car of a local shopper Thursday afternoon. The district arranged for the supply giveaway to help offer homeless students a good Christmas experience. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

Mr. Warrington, along with helpers from the school district, opened an old science classroom now filled with supplies for the shoppers who could take anything at no cost at all during the Supply Giveaway.

“It’s been very humbling to me. I’ve been doing this for a while and I’ve never had a problem with anybody. They’re always so grateful. It’s that giving where you don’t want anything in return, which is kind of nice,” he said of the opportunity.

Surprisingly, the families classified as “homeless” within the school district don’t necessarily live on the streets. In fact, it’s illegal to do so, according to Mr. Warrington.

“Legally, you [adults] can live on the streets. But your kids cannot. So, if they call, I have to call DCF [Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families],” he said.

Homeless families are found in three main areas: in shelters, motels thanks to state and private funding or doubled up with other families.

“The big thing is to keep them consistent school-wise. It used to be that they would have to switch schools several times a year but when everything around them is constantly changing, it’s really important for the consistency to be there,” Mr. Warrington said.

Renee* said the consistency has been key for her family.

She now lives in a shelter located in Milford after she was forced out of a home she had for five years.

“It’s inside of a church. The pastor has opened the doors to the community no matter the need. We can take showers, we have food… you really can’t ask for much more. We watch out for other and help find food, too,” she said.

“The word I would use to describe it is devastating, heartbreaking, to go from living in the same place for five years to living in a shelter. And that’s the only way you’re staying off the street.”

Like others at the supply giveaway Thursday Afternoon, Renee said she tried getting monetary assistance from the state for a step in the right direction, but it was too little too late for her family.

“We only have Medicaid and food assistance now. We could have gotten a check for $338 a month from the state, but when you think about even just a room for rent at $175 a week, the check goes right out the window and it doesn’t even cover a full month of living there,” she said.

Beyond that, she has been denied housing by the state due to a previous housing issue.

“We lost the apartment due to carpet fees,” Renee said. “The landlord made me pay $722. Some of it was taken out of my security deposit. But then I was denied by the Delaware State Housing for five years because of it. My five years will be up soon and I’ll reapply.”

The waiting list for subsidized housing can be as long as two years, she added.

For parents like Renee, Mr. Warrington said getting out of the cycle is hard, but an important step in the right direction.

“Our community continues to wrap itself around these families. The Chamber [of Commerce for Greater Milford] donated the toys with Coldwell Banker, motels and local hotels gave us towels and knitting groups made the blankets, scarves, gloves and hats. And we always get more. When someone needs something, we have it here thanks to our community,” he said.

One of Mr. Warrington’s “Elves” for the day Deena Colona agreed, saying, “ You never know from one day to another. So you have to pull it together. That’s the whole point of the word community.”

*Name changed for privacy reasons.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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