How the Homeless Survive When Emergency Shelters Are Closed - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

How the Homeless Survive When Emergency Shelters Are Closed

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(Photo: WBOC) (Photo: WBOC)

SEAFORD, Del. -- For many people across Delmarva, being homeless or without sufficient heat in the winter months is a constant fight for survival when trying to keep warm.

Since Code Purple emergency shelters were first introduced in 2014 around parts of Delaware and Maryland, countless lives have been saved from cold weather-related deaths.

But many of the resources for Delmarva's homeless and those in need are only available at specific times during the weekdays, which begs the questions: what do the homeless do when it's cold but not freezing?

Leonard Butler, Jr., a father of three currently separated from his wife and children, volunteers at the Acceptance Change and Empowerment (A.C.E.) Peer Resource Center in Seaford. Butler said it's a predicament many of Delmarva's homeless dread every winter.

“If it's 33, 34 degrees it's still cold out there,” said Butler referring to the fact that Cold Purple and other winter emergency shelters open only when temperatures fall below 32 degrees.

Butler said other homeless individuals must get creative when it comes to finding warmth throughout the day and night.

“Go to the library. Your local stores, walk around in a Walmart. Whatever we need to do to stay warm,” said Butler.

Separated from the rest of his family, with his wife in Philadelphia caring for her ailing mother and his two youngest children in foster care in Dover, a tent in the woods is Butler's only means of survival when homeless shelters in Seaford are not available.

He explains how he's able to keep warm in the woods.

“We try with candles and terracotta pots,” Butler said. “Put a candle on, put the terracotta on so it can breathe and the terracotta warms our tents."

Butler said it's no way to live.

“There are few people that know my story,” said Butler as he started to cry. “They try to tell others, they start to cry as well. It's a rough world out there."

Pastor Eugene Brown and his wife Olivia can relate.

After their home and church burned down a year ago they had nowhere to go. Today the elderly couple live in a camper without heat or electricity.

Only a small supply of thick comforter blankets keep them and the stray cat they've adopted warm through the night.

"It leaks,” said Pastor Brown of the camper's failing condition. “It's one step above a tent. But we're still homeless. No place to take a shower.”

At the A.C.E. center, Butler said he's been trying to work with the city to get bus passes or old vehicles donated to help the center with transportation, a need he believes can help improve everyone's situation at the resource facility.

The DART bus schedule, according to Butler and the Browns, is infrequent, usually with hours in between wait times at area stops.

By at least having access to reliable transportation, Butler said the other homeless individuals actively looking for work would be able to get to their job interviews on time and hopefully, finally get back on track to supporting themselves again and into a warmer, stable environment in the long run.

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