CARLISLE — Low temperatures combined with dangerous wind chills may draw more people to agencies serving the homeless, but those agencies are limited in what they can do to help.
Shari Bellish, executive director of Carlisle CARES, said employment and housing conditions primarily dictate demand for services, but the weather may play a small part.
“Our numbers don’t change because we’ve been maxed out anyway,” Bellish said.
Guests of Carlisle CARES are housed at area churches on a schedule that rotates from month to month. Bellish said the churches generally aren’t going to complain if there are a few extra people on a cold night, but there is a physical limitation as to how many people each shelter can accommodate.
The number permitted in an overnight shelter is also limited by the required volunteer to guest ratio, she said.
This month, 55 people are approved to stay each night at Carlisle United Methodist Church, Bellish said.
Individuals seeking shelter for the night have to be at the CARES office by 8 p.m. If more than 55 show up on a regular night, the agency would have a lottery to see who can stay. During Friday’s first round of sub-freezing temperatures, Bellish said the agency would try to work something out.
“We’ll do everything we can to get a roof over their heads,” she said.
Bellish said the homeless will also find shelter at other locations during inclement weather. That might include places like the library during the day or a 24-hour business like a laundromat, Walmart or a diner overnight.
Because both Safe Harbour and The Salvation Army are focused on transitional housing, their response to needs of the homeless during cold weather extends to areas other than providing overnight shelter.
“We are at our capacity and, because of fire safety regulations and zoning, it would not be feasible to bring other people in,” said Scott Shewell, vice president for community relations and development at Safe Harbour.
Safe Harbour works closely with Carlisle CARES and will share additional blankets and food if it is needed, he said.
Maureen Mahr, business director of The Salvation Army, said the weather has an effect on other areas of their programming. More people will come to the agency looking for warm clothing, hats, coats, gloves and bedding — all of which is available to people in need at The Salvation Army Thrift Store. More people will also come for a hot meal at My Brother’s Table, she said.
“We serve as a warming station which means, during the day, we extend the dining room hours of My Brother’s Table so people may come in to get warm and have a cup of coffee or juice,” Mahr said.
Meal times, however, remain the same. Breakfast is served Monday through Friday at 8 a.m., and a community meal is offered at 4:30 p.m. On Saturdays, there is one meal at noon and there is one meal at 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Usually, Carlisle CARES closes its resource center during meal times to encourage the homeless to take advantage of meals such as those served by The Salvation Army. When an advisory for extreme weather conditions is issued, in summer or in winter, Bellish advises the staff to keep the building open to allow the people to stay indoors. Those who are not part of the agency’s day program are also permitted to come into the lobby during weather advisories.
“On days like this, even 10 minutes outside can give them frostbite,” Bellish said.
Prior to the recent cold snap, the agency made sure people had coats, but the agency is always in need of hats, gloves, scarves and even socks, Bellish said.