Shelters only open when volunteers are available overnight

By Rebecca Jones

There are 15 weeks that Code Purple in Sussex County is in operation. From Dec. 1 through March 15, various churches open their doors in Seaford, Georgetown, Milford and Lewes to the displaced in our area. That is, they open their doors if they can find someone to volunteer to stay as overnight guests at one of the seven sites in the county. 

Last year, approximately 275 homeless men and women were able to spend the night out of the elements, sleeping in a warm, safe place. However, without volunteers, this cannot happen.

The lack of snow thus far this winter might lull those of us in our warm homes into a feeling that the members of the homeless community are doing “okay.” Not so, says Giovanni Otero, Neighbor Engagement Director at Love INC. 

“You tell people to walk a block in the rain without proper winter wear,” he said, citing how chilled and uncomfortable those who live in homes can feel, “and it’ll give you a small window into what other people face during a whole winter in the elements.”

This is Otero’s first year as Code Purple’s director, and he is passionate about his mission. He said he has heard the stories of many who find themselves without a home. He said it takes little in this climate where people live from paycheck to paycheck, with lack of adequate and affordable housing, to find oneself in a displaced position. 

“A divorce, sickness, loss of employment are just a few things that can cause a person to lose their home,” he said. 

He said that the Seaford locations are the most difficult in which to find volunteers, yet that is the most critical aspect of Code Purple. He said fear of the unknown may keep people from volunteering. 

“I have met people who are homeless as early as a week to years and everything in between. You get to know their stories, their gifts. They’re regular people like you and me who have hit a rough patch,” Otero said. “I say to try it for just one night and see that it’s not as scary as you allow yourself to think. It’s very self-governing. They won’t put in jeopardy having a warm place to stay for three months. You start to see they’re people, they’re tired, they just want a place to sleep.”

Otero stated that he would love to see churches in the area “adopt” a week to volunteer at one of the sites. He stated if a church would say they would dedicate volunteers to take a week, then that would require only 14 to 21 people in a church willing to give one night of their lives to help others a year. Even though only one person is required to keep a site open for the night, it is suggested that two volunteers stay overnight. One person can man the intake area for a two-to-three-hour period, while the other one to two people could stay overnight with the guests. “If you can only give one night in the whole three-month span, I’ll take it!” he said. 

To keep the sites open at a bare minimum requires one overnight volunteer. And Otero said the site coordinators are stretched, many volunteers are staying overnight three times a week. He said he hopes to change that, so that there’s no burn-out among the faithful volunteers who show up. 

“If we even had 30 people dedicated to cover the men’s site in Seaford, and 30 people to cover the women’s site, instead of volunteering three times a week, they would only have to cover three or four times the entire 15 weeks we are in operation,” Otero said. “We desperately need volunteers for Seaford and Georgetown; Milford has repeat volunteers, while Lewes has a steady stream of dedicated volunteers.” 

Training is provided. It is an unpaid volunteer experience. Code Purple Sussex County is open – with volunteer participation – from Dec. 1 through March 15, including holidays. Other counties open dependent upon the temperature. Code Purple sites in other counties are hosted by the government; they are hosted by churches and volunteers in Sussex County. “This is a beautiful opportunity for the church to be involved, build relationships,” Otero said. 

To volunteer, look for “Code Purple” on Love INC’s website at The two Seaford locations are: Grace Seaford Church, 805 Atlanta Road; and St. Luke’s Parish Hall, 202 N. North Street. Grace Seaford Church houses women overnight, while St. Lukes houses men overnight. Only 14 guests are allowed to stay at a location per night. 

To contact Love INC’s office, call 302-629-7050. Homeless neighbors are highly encouraged to pre-register to stay overnight at one of the Code Purple locations. The emergency hotline number is 302-519-0024.