“We give people a hand up until they can get back on their feet,” said Dr. Zelda Carter, co-founder and director of Family Help Inc.
A Middletown non-profit group has been helping the homeless for nearly four years, but group leaders said they knew simple changes could help even more people.
“We’ve been turning away families,” said Dr. Zelda Carter, co-founder and director of Family Help Inc., which provides transitional housing at four apartments on West Lake Street in Middletown.
Established in August 2010, the program has helped 16 families so far, providing a place to live for up to 18 months and many other services.
“We give people a hand up until they can get back on their feet,” said Carter.
Now the group is renovating the apartments, adding a total of four bedrooms in two apartments and making one apartment handicapped-accessible with an improved entrance and bathroom.
“The whole front is going to have a facelift. We’ll be bringing everything up to code, and making improvements to the heating and cooling system and to the water system,” said Carter.
Family Help isn’t just providing a home. Thanks to many donations, the group supplies food and furnishings, and connects residents with job search programs, resumé writing assistance, social service programs, and first-time homeowner programs.
The families also receive financial planning help.
“One part of the agreement is that the person or family has to set up a savings fund and that money stays with us until they are ready to move out,” said Carter. “We also help people clean up their credit. We’ve helped four families purchase vehicles.”
Another benefit of the program: Carter believes it prevents crime.
“If you have a place to live and food to eat, you won’t have to resort to shoplifting and home invasions to steal what you need,” she said.
The length of a person’s stay varies. Some people stay a few months; others stay for more than a year.
“The limit is one year to 18 months, depending on the situation,” said Carter. “If a family has children in school, we will let them stay until the end of the school year. We don’t want them to have to leave and disrupt the children’s school life.”
A dream come true
Irv Brockson, co-founder and president of Family Help Inc., is a chef and caterer who started the MOT Big Ball Marathon which provides donations for community groups. But he wanted to do more. The transitional housing program was desperately needed in Middletown, he said.
“This had been a dream of mine for years,” said Brockson. “A lot of people said, ‘Don’t do it.’ I said, ‘Just don’t get in my way.’ We got a board together, and with the help of the county and a variety of people, we’ve been able to do it. It’s been a total team effort.”
Brockson said although the four apartments were a good start, the renovations were sorely needed.
“We were helping families, but we only had one-bedroom apartments,” he said.
He said while people in the program haven’t always been grateful – one person left and stole a refrigerator – there have been many more success stories.
“We had a woman who told us she would have been out on the street with her kids if it wasn’t for us,” said Brockson. “She was only here four months. She worked her way up to manager where she works and she was able to move out and get a place on her own.”
For Brockson, helping people in need of homes has become his mission.
“God doesn’t always choose the most qualified person, but He qualifies the one he chooses,” said Brockson.
Along with Family Help Inc., Brockson’s also a big supporter of Habitat for Humanity, assisting with 22 Habitat homes.
“If I live long enough, I’d like to see a shelter that could house 50 to 100 people,” he said. “So many people believe in what we’re doing, and we’ve received help from so many people and organizations. We just have to do things one step at a time.”
Funding and donations
Brockson and Carter said the New Castle County government has been instrumental in starting and sustaining the transitional housing program.
“They have supported us on this project since 2010 and they have continued to support us,” said Carter. “Without them, we would not have been able to do this. We would like to thank their entire staff.”
Brockson said Chris Coons, now a U.S. Senator, was the county executive when Family Help Inc. first proposed the program.
“He was at a conference at the University of Delaware where I spoke about what we were trying to do in Middletown, and he said he’d be willing to help,” said Brockson. “A couple years later when we founded the group, he was a big help with the funding.”
Carter thanked County Councilman Bill Powers and Middletown Mayor Ken Branner, the town council members, and town staff for their support.
Carter said Family Help has also received help and donations from many individual, churches, community groups, businesses, and real estate companies including Christ Servants Mission, Love Inc., Agape Storehouse Community Basket, MOT Rotary Club, Southern New Castle County Rotary Club, the MOT Big Ball Marathon, Walmart, Super G, Acme, Money’s Farm Market, and DEBALLI Property Management.
How to help or get help
People who need help with transitional housing can call (302) 250-5461 or see the Family Help Inc. section of the Christ Servants Mission website at agapestorehouse.net.
To make a donation, call (302) 356-0142 or see the website above, click on “More” on the tabs at the top right of the homepage, and then click “DONATE.”
CHANGES PLANNED AT FAMILY HELP INC. APARTMENTS
CURRENT SET UP
1 two-bedroom apartment
3 one-bedroom apartments
2 three-bedroom apartments
1 two-bedroom apartment that is handicapped accessible
1 one-bedroom apartment
TOTAL NUMBER OF BEDROOMS
CURRENT SET UP 5 bedrooms
AFTER RENOVATIONS 9 bedrooms