DelDOT Admits Wrongdoing in Removing Homeless From Under Bridge - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

DelDOT Admits Wrongdoing in Removing Homeless From Under Bridge

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DelDOT issued a statement about their handling of the clean-up under a Rte. 13 bridge in Dover. DelDOT issued a statement about their handling of the clean-up under a Rte. 13 bridge in Dover.
The area under the Douglas L. Harris Bridge on Rte. 13 in Dover. Advocates for the homeless say there were 20 people living there. (Photo: WBOC) The area under the Douglas L. Harris Bridge on Rte. 13 in Dover. Advocates for the homeless say there were 20 people living there. (Photo: WBOC)

DOVER, Del.- On May 4, without warning, all of their belongings were taken after they had gone to work. The belongings ranged from birth certificates to medication, shoes and tents.

The Delaware Department of Transportation led the clean-up of the area under the Douglas L. Harris Bridge on Route 13 that spans the St. Jones River in Dover. It was populated by about 20 homeless people, according to Cathi Kopera who works with them.

WBOC reported the incident when Kopera shared it with the public.

DelDOT secretary Jennifer Cohan said, "In reviewing the situation, it is evident to me that DelDOT did not conduct the necessary removal in a sensitive way."

The statement said the sweep happened at 8:30 a.m. on May 4. It went on to say, "The work, which was conducted with the participation of local law enforcement and state environmental officials, was necessary because maintenance had to be performed on the structure."

DelDOT says it has changed its policy regarding the clean-ups like this in the future. Cohan said the department will request assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services' Crisis Intervention Unit and PAT Outreach Group before undertaking any future work of this type.

Cathi Kopera is known to most homeless people in Dover as their advocate. She says she is glad to see DelDOT is admitting wrongdoing, but what happened still does not make sense.

"And all of a sudden they're doing some kind of structure repair," she said. "Well, my thing has been, if the bridge is too dangerous to be under, why are we driving over it?"

The ACLU of Delaware has gotten involved and is representing the men who were forced out from under the bridge. The group says there are legal issues beyond just reaching out for help in the future. According to Ryan Tack-Hooper, who is representing the men, he wants the state to right this wrong, and he is not ruling out a lawsuit.

Kopera says this entire situation could have been avoided if DelDOT had just provided notice to the people living there that they needed to leave. She says the conversation now needs to be about ways to give these people homes.

"I'm thinking if there was an area that they could go and set up their tents," she said. "But everybody's like 'Not in my backyard.' Well, who's backyard?"

She's looking forward to bringing homes to the homeless through a tiny home community to be build on the outskirts of Dover.

It's in the planning phases, but they just got started Monday on building a model, 200-square-foot home.

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