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Jill Bartoli saw the need firsthand as a volunteer donating her time at an overnight shelter in the Carlisle area.

The Carlisle resident remembers the mother who tried to comfort a child who was crying because he had a cold.

“The woman was walking the floor until after midnight,” said Bartoli, recalling how hard it was for most anyone to sleep camping out in the host church.

“There are people caught up in the flood of homelessness,” she said. “NOAH has an ark that can help them.”

Short for New Options for Affordable Housing, NOAH is a coalition of Carlisle area residents who are determined to not only move the homeless into housing, but to connect them with a network of services that help the needy achieve personal independence.

NOAH volunteers will be on street corners in downtown Carlisle and in local shopping centers from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday. They will be trying to raise awareness of the plight of homelessness in the community.

Part of their mission is to raise money to buy and rehabilitate apartment units to house the homeless. NOAH also could use donations to build a fund to head off emergency situations and pending evictions.

“Homelessness is like a downward spiral,” Bartoli said. “Everything keeps going wrong. Once you are caught up in it, it takes a lot of support from a lot of people from different areas to build you back up again.”

New group

The coalition started about a year ago as a group of residents concerned that, while homelessness has decreased across much of the nation, it was on the rise in Pennsylvania. Homeless people are drawn to the Carlisle area because of its role as the Cumberland County seat and the accessibility to social service agencies.

Informal meetings and recruitment efforts last fall led to a community forum in early November on how to mitigate homelessness in Carlisle. Since then, NOAH has incorporated into a charitable organization with a board of directors. Paperwork has been filed with the Internal Revenue Service to obtain nonprofit status so that donations to NOAH could be written off as tax-deductible.

NOAH organizers have developed a mission statement and an approach strategy to help the most vulnerable obtain sustainable, permanent housing and independent living. To accomplish this goal, the group has formed teams of volunteers who will serve as mentors and workers lending their advice and expertise toward helping the homeless.

There are teams specializing in health care, legal issues, nutrition and healthy living, child care and early childhood education and transportation and car maintenance. Those interested in volunteering can visit the NOAH website at www.NOAHCarlislePA.org or email either co-chair at Jillsundaybartoli@gmail.com or PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

“There are not enough ways to get people off the street,” said Carlisle resident Pat LaMarche, an advocate for the homeless. “Our goal is to help the people nobody else can help.”

While there are programs for the needy, there are people who don’t fit within the classifications to receive federal assistance, LaMarche said. The low-wage working poor with bad credit and seniors on minimal Social Security may get on a waiting list for public housing, but are unlikely to get off that list, she said.

In allocating services, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development assigns every person who applies for public housing a level of vulnerability depending on their circumstances. A mother whose child has a learning disability is deemed more vulnerable than a single male or female who is healthy, but lacks the education or training for a higher paying job.

Aside from the working poor, homeless people include women with children fleeing domestic abuse and violence and military veterans and their families at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide.

The numbers

In Carlisle, more than 200 people are in homeless shelter programs while another 50 to 70 are sheltered overnight in local churches by Carlisle CARES. Each month, a different church provides floors, and the average stay per individual is four to eight months.

“It’s wonderful the churches are providing some shelter,” Bartoli said. “It’s certainly better than being out in a tent or worse, but it’s not a home. A home is a fundamental basic human need.”

Already NOAH members are engaged in the mission. Realtor Alex Manning of Camp Hill has donated two apartments to homeless veterans and their families. Other members have been gathering up household goods from sales and discarded furniture salvaged from the curbside to channel to Stacie Martins, a caseworker with the Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities.

One goal of NOAH is to ease the burden on front-line homeless shelters and caregivers. Martins has a heavy caseload of people to place into public housing and to provide sustainable help.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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