Six weeks after completing its transformation from a Sheraton to a homeless shelter, New Castle County and state officials continue to steadily increase the usage of their recently-purchased ex-hotel near New Castle.
The New Castle County Hope Center opened on December 15 with 73 pre-registered guests from Friendship House, and as of Tuesday, January 26, 2021, that number had expanded to 137.
Nicole Waters, Director of Operations for the Hope Center, told New Castle County Council this week that 89 of the available 170 rooms for guests were currently filled.
Depending on the layout, the Hope Center can hold up to a family of nine, and rooms on the second floor are being reserved for families with pets, with Faithful Friends working with the Hope Center, according to Waters.
"They'll teach people how to care for their animals. They give them a leash, and the bowl, and the carrier, and pet food, and all those good things. They also offer them the microchip, the deworming flea and tick removal, plan spay or neutering."
Waters said future plans for the center include converting the former banquet kitchen into an on-site laundromat.
"We also have some laundry facilities in progress. We're getting some quotes for having something onside for guests. Guests now take the shuttle and go to Prices Corner where we have a partnership with a laundromat there. They're given tokens, laundry detergent pods, and bus tokens, so they can actually get there to wash their clothes down."
The temporary shuttle service runs every hour starting at 7pm to Prices Corner, with half-hour pick-ups from the same spot until 6:30 p.m. The plan is for Living Grace Worship Cathedral's "Grace Transportation" to pick up some of the slack, potentially adding Christiana Mall as a second hub site by the end of the month.
The Hope Center is not a walk-up facility, the 89 rooms currently filled were from state service center referrals, as part of a program that also includes Ramadas and other hotels in the state through the Centralized Intake system.
Code Purple is using the former hotel's ex-ballroom.
"Code Purple is every night, not just when temperatures drop below freezing. Guests stay 24/7, if they wish, and it's non-congregate."
Meals are delivered to guests once per day, with a lunch, dinner, and breakfast delivered at around 11 a.m. Guests in the rooms can use the retained mini-fridges and microwaves to reheat the meals.
Guests also have access to a growing array of medical services, which make up the non-pet portion of the second floor.
Emergency room Dr. Sandra Gibney has donated her time and expertise on Mondays, and Waters said has made an impact already.
"One of the guests was kind of walking funny and not moving so well. He went to see Dr. Gibney, and she did some adjustments to him, and he started walking around and said he felt like going into the ballroom and dancing because she did that for him, he felt like a new person."
The Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health is also working on putting a bridge clinic inside the Hope Center.
Waters said they can be an asset for those exiting prison after substance abuse charges, and the program is looking to expand past traditional business hours.
"They will offer screening and referral to treatment, access to on-site clinicians, guidance navigating care networks and other services, and they're preparing to be at the center 24/7. They are gearing up as we speak."
Waters said the Hope Center still is a work-in-progress. They have added extra security measures since it's Sheraton-era, and they're still dealing with flooding concerns along Airport Road that has thrice blocked the entrance to the hotel in just the first 36 days.
"We've included a new state-of-the art security system that has 68 cameras, secure, exterior doors, panic buttons on each floor, and accessible controls via the internet and cell phones."