by Chelsea Hess-Moore, Photography by Kelly Ann Shuler
Having a place to call home is something that can be taken for granted. We go home to warmth, comfort and a plethora of basic items that we use every single day. Toiletries, showers, beds, washers, dryers and even food – all these things make up our home. Although it may slip our minds how fortunate we are to have a place to call home, for the homeless, a home is something that is constantly on their minds.
Carlisle C.A.R.E.S. was founded in 2004 by Executive Director Shari Bellish. What started as an effort to shelter the homeless during only the cold-weather months and nighttime hours has grown into an around-the-clock emergency shelter.
At night, people are sheltered in various local churches that volunteer to take turns on a monthly basis as a place for the homeless to sleep. During the day, the resource center, which opened in 2010, is available for use.
“We started out hosting the homeless in a few local churches during the nights and cold-weather months, but I realized that wasn’t enough,” says Bellish. “When you are homeless, you’re not just homeless in the cold months. You’re homeless all-year round, and every season has its challenges.”
The resource center is the home base for the families that Carlisle C.A.R.E.S. helps. The building consists of a full kitchen, laundry facility, wellness rooms, full bathrooms with showers, lockers for their personal belongings and a lounge area. Everyone who utilizes the shelter is required to have a supportive services coordinator who gives guidance to individuals on ways to get back on their feet and in better standings.
With a current average of 50 to 60 people utilizing the resource center, Bellish is thankful to have people like Patty Dowling who help run and maintain the building. Since the building opened its doors, Dowling has been volunteering every Wednesday at 7 a.m.
“I feel very fortunate and blessed to be able to help people,” says Dowling. “It’s very humbling, and there are too many of us who are three or four paychecks away from being in a similar situation. It reminds me of how grateful I am and how grateful I should be.”
Being homeless is something that can affect anyone, no matter their age or gender, and Bellish makes it clear that the stereotype of the homeless population being mostly made up of “30-year-old male addicts” is far from an accurate demographic statistic.
“The average age of a homeless person is 9 years old,” says Bellish. “Just in the month of September, we had 23 children in the center. We have had as young as a week old to as old as people in their 80s.”
Veterans, families and single parents are a few examples of the types of people who come and are welcome to the shelter. Carlisle C.A.R.E.S. takes everyone, including men, making it the only shelter that hosts single men in the Carlisle area.
The staff see many diverse people come to the shelters and center – some are mentally ill, some physically disabled and some who are fully functional but were just put in a bad situation. Everyone who comes through the doors has a different reason for being there.
“I love hearing their stories,” says Dowling. “There is a reason why they are here, and I try to find out that reason and try to help in any way that I can. I get as much out of it as the next person, and I enjoy it so much that I don’t see myself leaving any time soon.”