Wilmington committee listens, learns from shelter officials as city moves forward on homelessness

By John Hamilton - jhamilton@wnewsj.com

WILMINGTON — Homeless shelter officials shared and discussed their resources and perspective on the homeless and those in need at a City Services Committee meeting Tuesday.

The committee members and others heard from locals who assist homeless individuals during a fact-finding discussion.

Lee Sandlin of Sugartree Ministries told the committee and attendees the Christ-centered outreach ministry believes everyone is valuable and redeemable.

“The common ground that we have in this room is that we all care,” said Sandlin. “We don’t all agree about the solutions, but we can connect around how passionate we are.”

Sandlin told the committee that Sugartree tries to meet the needs as presented to them. They offer several services including open church services for all, hot meals, grocery delivery, and transportation.

“We do this through personal relationship building,” he said. “People in relationships, and with hope, and with their basic needs met, are more likely to be successful in recovery and survive trauma.”

He told the committee one thing needed for the community is a “bigger net.” He indicated there is a “hub of people” in the community that wants to tackle issues like homelessness, opioid addiction and more.

“We need an inpatient detox center. Being in treatment for an hour and on the street for 23 (hours) is difficult for those in recovery,” Sandlin said. “Since we don’t have (a detox center), as a community, Sugartree offers a place where people can be away from the people, places, and things that they associate with using drugs.”

Committee member Jonathan McKay asked about accountability with Sugartree.

“One of the myths is that Sugartree is rolling in grant money. We aren’t, though,” said Sandlin, adding they get lots of private donations and community support.

He indicated they did recently hire a social worker and they’ve been helping people get IDs.

“We’re going to make that a formal program so we can track the services we provide,” he said.

When Committee Chairperson Nick Eveland asked more about their shelter, Sandlin advised one of their struggles is the “immediacy of needs.”

“If you want off drugs, the process of getting into rehab takes weeks,” said Sandlin. “We give people a safe place to be while they are waiting. We also permanently house several disabled men who can’t find housing elsewhere,” he said, adding they have 15 beds in total.

Eveland also addressed concerns local residents have about hanging around tables outside along Main Street.

Sandlin told the committee they see the online criticisms and understand people being afraid when they see someone that makes them uncomfortable. He indicated they’re working on moving their gazebo to the side of their building and add security cameras.

If a crime is committed, Sugartree reports it, he said.

“We don’t aid and abet crimes, and we partner with law enforcement when we see evidence of a crime, but we do provide a place for people with no place to go,” he said.

He also advised they have never bused anyone in and they actually try to get people back to their home cities.

“If they don’t have connections here, then it’s better for them to be home,” Sandlin said. “A few law enforcement officers from out of the county have dropped people off at Sugartree, but it doesn’t happen often.”

Denise Stryker of the Clinton County Homeless Shelter told attendees that people can’t be changed until their basic needs are met and she spoke of how they try to help the homeless.

“We don’t care if people come every day to get something. If it gives us a chance to be in their lives and figure out what their real needs are, we’re glad for the opportunity,” said Stryker. “We’ve seen veterans, people in their 80s. Homelessness does not discriminate. I forget how many newborns were in our shelter last year. Many of us are one paycheck away from it, or a health care scare.”

Stryker praised the help the Shelter has received from the community. She highlighted donations of book bags, quilters, clothing, food, and household items they’ve received at their donation center.

“There’s always an abundance. If you say you need a pot or a plate, there’s no cost,” she said.

McKay asked about accountability at the Shelter. Stryker advised they’ve created individualized service plans, including goals and deadlines that “fit with the person’s situation.” She advised someone meets with each resident once a week to review their progress.

Eveland asked her about what percentage of residents are from the county and he also asked about drug usage rumors.

“Ninety-five percent are locals. Folks from out of county can stay for one or two nights if there is space, but we haven’t been able to do that recently,” said Stryker.

As for drug usage, she advised she has seen it happen, but it doesn’t happen often.

“The staff is observant and we have cameras on location. We do not allow people to have drugs on the property, and they are asked to leave if we find any,” she said.

Stryker later told the News Journal they’re looking to get grant money from the CARES Act.

Other participants in the discussions Tuesday included Patricia Thomas of the Hope House — a low-barrier shelter for women and children. County Commissioner Mike McCarty spoke about a county-wide study that is in the works.

Dr. Craig Strafford of New Vienna spoke about homeless and drug-addicted individuals he’s treated.

“Most people come for treatment because they don’t want to be sick anymore,” said Strafford. “They aren’t getting a favorable response from their addiction abuse. A few come in for fear of incarceration or a criminal justice agreement of some sort, but most people are internally motivated to get well.”

The committee also heard from various other members of the community who work for organizations, and some shared their own experiences with homelessness.

Eveland told attendees they plan on inviting representatives from the mental health community. He said he believes the next meeting will take place in two weeks.


By John Hamilton


Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574

Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574