A homelessness problem in Milford isn’t a what-if. It’s not a worst-case scenario. It’s happening.

A homelessness problem in Milford isn’t a what-if. It’s not a worst-case scenario. It’s happening.

And a council of pastors, lay people and Milford-area residents wants to bring the problem into the public eye, and do something about it.

“This has become a prevalent problem, with women coming into this town and not having a bed to sleep on,” said Dorothy Vuono, president of Circle of Light Ministry.

Circle of Light, a coalition of churches and individuals formed to help homeless women and families in the Milford area, wants to shine a spotlight on that problem, and then help eliminate it.

To that end, members of the group came to the Milford City Council on March 23 to ask for help building a shelter in the city for homeless women and families.

“Unless more transition programs like this are able to exist, we as a town will be unable to meet the need,” Joanne Fitchett said.

According to the group, the vast majority of homeless families in Delaware are headed by women – mostly single mothers.

“There will be some who say that they don’t want to have a homeless shelter in their back yard,” Vuono said. “To those people, I say they’re already here. They may already be in your back yard.”

Ruth Ann Beideman, president of Milford Lincoln Area Missions and outreach director at the Milford Senior Center, said homeless people come into the center daily looking for a place to stay, but often there’s nowhere for them to go but motels or private homes.

“By 8:30 (a.m.) or 9 at the latest, all the shelters are full,” she said.

Council members were supportive of the group, and some said they have seen the city’s homeless problem firsthand.

“There are people who have slept on the floor, that I feed,” council member Katrina Wilson said. “We have people sleeping outside, in Milford.”

Wilson was the first council member to bring up homelessness at a meeting two weeks ago.

“We need this,” council member James Starling said. “I will be working very hard to se if we can do something.”

Circle of Light representatives said that they accept donations of all kinds, but are looking above all else for a donation of land where they can build a shelter. Once they have a piece of property, they hope to do the actual construction with volunteer labor, possibly through Habitat for Humanity.

“We should delve deep and see if there’s a piece of land in the city that somebody would like to give or that the city owns,” council member James Oechsler said. “I know money’s tight, but if we can find some land, that would be a good start.”

Conflict of interest for

city solicitor alleged, dismissed

Later in the meeting, council member Mike Spillane said that City Solicitor Tim Willard could have a conflict of interest, or the appearance of one, when dealing with attorney Jim Griffin, who has represented Elmer Fannin’s Key Properties Group development company in a number of applications and legal actions, including those related to Hearthstone Manor – where the city has an active lawsuit. 

“I’m not saying it is one, just that it could appear that way,” he said.

Spillane presented the council with a  diagram of connections between Willard, Griffin, Fuqua & Yori, the law firm that employs Willard, and various clients that the three have represented. He pointed out in particular that Willard has represented developers before the Sussex County Council, where Griffin is the council attorney.

Spillane said that because they have clients in common and  have at various times, or ended up on opposing sides of other legal actions, there could be an appearance of conflict.

Willard responded that there is no conflict or appearance of conflict under the rules that govern Delaware lawyers.

“What the councilman suggests is that there is some kind of quid pro quo between me and Mr. Griffin,” Willard said.

He added that he found the idea “offensive” and that, under Spillane’s interpretation, no two attorneys could argue against each other in more than one suit.

“(Spillane) suggest that we couldn’t have any other cases together,” Willard said.

The rest of the council came to Willard’s defense.

“I apologize to you,” council member John Workman said. “Mr. Willard should not have been put on the spot like this.”

“I haven’t seen any grounds of him doing anything wrong, so I don’t see why it was brought up,” Starling said.

The discussion could have been held in executive session, behind closed doors, but Willard personally requested that it be done in public.

Public hearings pass

without incident

The council meeting opened with two public hearings on planning & zoning issues, neither of which drew much comment from the council or the public.

First was a new subdivision on Kings Highway, dividing one six-acre parcel into three. The council voted 8-0 to approve the subdivision, with the provision, inserted by the city planning commission, that sidewalks be built for each new home.

A public hearing for the rezoning of a Seabury Avenue home to allow a dentist’s office to be built there also went without incident, but the council is not legally allowed to approve it until the new comprehensive plan passes the state legislature.

According to City Planner Gary Norris, the plan has been held up for the last month by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which wants revisions to the city’s wellhead protection law before it will sign off on the document.

Later, on another planning matter, the council unanimously approved.