With support, new mobile app could aid many

Last winter, a man took the bus to Georgetown Public Library. He was distraught, trying to reach an emergency shelter, but learned it was temporarily closed.

“It was a very cold, one of those single-digit days,” said Librarian Sherri Scott.

Unable to find another option, he desperately called the police and told them he was suicidal so they would put him in a safe place overnight.

That’s just one story Delaware librarians have about people in need.

To write a happier ending to these tales, a team of librarians developed a mobile app — “Del-AWARE” — that would provide information on shelters, food, clothing and more.

Here’s the only catch: it’s just a prototype. A private donor or grant funding could make this app a reality.

The app needs to be professionally designed (with mapping and updates), then made public. The new app could get off the ground with a financial boost, also lifting up a large population of those with financial, food and housing needs.

This app would be free for anyone facing food or financial insecurity.

The “Del-AWARE” team had a 9-month goal to use a new technology to meet a statewide need, even long after the project window officially ended.

“Each library, no matter where it is — we have people in need,” said Catherine Wimberley (Dover Public Library) at an Oct. 29 statewide conference, as her colleagues nodded.

People often ask them where to sleep during cold weather or where to get financial aid.

“We wanted to create an essential resource app,” Wimberley said, that would connect you to information about shelters, about where you could go for food, for clothing.”

As library staff and several small studies would agree, most people without shelter do have smart phones or mobile devices. (Sometimes that’s only resource families can give them to stay connected.) They use the libraries’ free Wi-Fi.

The first app phase would include five categories: shelter (temporary shelter or Code Purple locations), food (pantries or soup kitchens), health (hospitals or walk-in clinics), clothing (thrift shops) and finance (money classes or bill assistance).

Future additions would include also personal care and transportation. Shelters and service providers could also update the app themselves, as needed.

The Del-AWARE team found outdated information and gaps in information. Is te food pantry open on Mondays? Should a person submit paperwork before getting a shelter bed? This app would list all the prerequisites and rules of the shelters and other support systems.

“Seven years ago when I was homeless, if I had more readily accessible information, then I could have bad better [options and outlook],” said Jim Martin, director of A.C.E. Peer Center in Seaford, in a video interview.

Martin described the hopelessness he felt when homeless, caused by a “perfect storm” of professional and personal challenges.

“I never really understood how to navigate all [those resources], so I felt so alone,” which led to anxiety and fear, until he found a safe haven in the library. “That was a place I felt safe.”

According to the team, 2278 Delawareans experienced homelessness in 2014. Less than 15 percent (still several hundred people) were in Sussex County, and 24 percent are under age 18.

“Personally, I’ve had a couple situations in my life where I could have used this app, and it would have made the situation much easier,” said Scott, remembering a late night of driving a homeless individual around, trying to find that person safe shelter.

Even major festivals like Firefly can displace people who live in hotels, since room rates skyrocket on those nights, said librarian Heather Lembeck.

Finally, to access the Del-AWARE app, the team hopes to also provide a mobile tablet to every library in the state.

Until that day, libraries are now adding “Kindness Corners,” giving folks from all walks of life a place to meet, chat, play games or get some help during the day.

Anyone with ideas to make this app a reality can contact Catherine.Wimberley@lib.de.us or call (302) 736-7030.