During a major housing crisis, homeless people were forced to leave the woods of Rehoboth

During a major housing crisis, homeless people were forced to leave the woods of Rehoboth

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In June, a small group of homeless people were forced to leave their camps in a small patch of woods along Coastal Highway in Rehoboth Beach due to the growing housing crisis.

In March, Delaware State Police began talking to “approximately 6-8 individuals” who were staying in the woods behind the Midway Presbyterian Church cemetery, spokesman Cpl. David Huynh said via email. Four properties in the area, owned by the church, Newark Presbytery, East Atlantic Apartments and an unnamed business, “were experiencing issues with homeless individuals,” Huynh said.

“The church had posted signs saying ‘no entry’ in particular, but unfortunately they were removed,” Huynh said. Stolen goods were also found in the area.

“Given all these factors, we have started to formulate a plan to assist the (church) in deterring violations and cleaning up the area,” he said.

Neither Midway Presbyterian Church nor Newark Presbytery responded to phone calls and emails.

The homeless “were provided with a variety of resources,” said another state police spokesman, Lt. India Sturgis. That included access to mental health services, substance abuse programs and other general health services, Sturgis said.

Huynh said police had warned the homeless weeks before June 18, when a Department of Corrections work crew was deployed to clean up the area and fill two dumpsters.

When police arrived, there were three homeless people left, and they left peacefully, Sturgis said.

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“We recognize the challenges that homeless people face and have done everything we can to provide support and resources,” Huynh said. “Our goal was to address the concerns of homeowners while showing compassion and respect for the individuals involved.”

Housing ‘out of reach’ for many Delaware residents

Last week, there were no people present in the camps, located across Coastal Highway from Walmart, but it was clear that at one point many more than “6-8 people” were living there.

Munchy Branch runs through the wooded area behind the cemetery, extending to the highway on one side and the Fairfield Inn on the other, to cover about two or three acres. It is completely overgrown with trash. There was evidence of a police sweep in a small section of the woods behind the cemetery.

The encampments are completely hidden from view of the Coastal Highway by trees. Ironically, one of the trails into the forest passes a row of signs advertising new homes costing $300,000 or more.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition and Housing Alliance DE publish an annual report called “Out of Reach,” which highlights “the gap between wages and what people need to earn to afford rent,” according to a Housing Alliance press release.

While the minimum wage in Delaware is $13.25, the “wage for a 2-bedroom dwelling” is $30.65 per hour, a 17% increase from 2023, the report said.

A “housing wage” is defined as the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford rental housing at market rent without having to spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

“As rents spiral further out of reach, it’s no surprise that homelessness is on the rise,” the press release said. “Existing research shows a direct link between rental housing costs, rental housing supply, and homelessness.”

Raising the minimum wage alone won’t solve the housing crisis, the press release said. Housing costs also need to come down. Delaware has a shortage of more than 16,000 affordable and available rental units for extremely low-income tenants, the report said, and more than half of those tenants are seniors or people with disabilities.

Shannon Marvel McNaught reports from southern Delaware and beyond. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @MarvelMcNaught.