It's only 10 paces across the length of a sparsely-furnished room lit by a fluorescent, office-style ceiling fixture. It's not luxurious but, as Safe Harbour spokesman Scott Shewell said, "it's warm, safe and dry."
A handful of Carlisle Borough officials and delegates from the offices of local legislators on the state and federal level discovered what it takes to keep the Cumberland County’s homeless warm, safe and dry as they joined the Cumberland/Perry Local Housing Options Team for a "No House Tour" Friday morning.
The team is a collaboration between multiple human service agencies to network and promote services for the homeless and disabled, said April Doland, special needs housing case manager with the Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
The tour, which included 18 homeless shelters, human service agencies and housing assistance organizations in Carlisle, allowed officials not only to learn about the services offered by the various organizations in detail, but also to see the facilities and the need to continue receiving funding to provide services, Doland said.
“Today we focused on Carlisle since there are so many services here,” she said.
Safe Harbour, located on West High Street in Carlisle, was the last stop on a tour route that stretched from Project SHARE on North Orange Street to the Cumberland County Public Assistance Office on Westminster Drive.
“The tour was to really give people an idea of a day in the life of homeless people,” Doland said.
“They are walking that distance,” said Sherri Bellish, executive director of Carlisle C.A.R.E.S. “While they’re doing all that walking, they’re juggling where they need to go.”
That’s why case managers, like those at Carlisle C.A.R.E.S., are vital. They can help the homeless individual or family navigate through the system. “It gets them out of homelessness faster as a team than they would by themselves,” Bellish said.
The first step in helping the homeless is to assess where they came from, where they are and what they need, Bellish said. Housing may not always be the immediate need. Homeless people may require attention to mental health or medical needs before housing.
“We address what the most immediate need is,” Bellish said.
And, she said, not everyone wants a house. Those individuals make up a small percentage of the homeless and are often people who find the prospect of having a house and all that comes with it overwhelming.
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“I found it interesting to learn about — and better understand — the distances people walk in areas that aren’t safe,” said Carlisle Borough Councilwoman Dawn Flower.
Flower said a proposed bus circulator for Carlisle includes a human services route on its schedule and routes could be adjusted to add some of the agencies on the tour.
Debra Figueroa, who moved to the borough recently when she was hired as the assistant borough manager, said the tour helped her understand the organizations better. “It is striking how well the organizations work together and the need is overwhelming,” she said.
Mike Reynolds attended the tour of behalf of Rep. Stephen Bloom’s office. Though he was already familiar with the resources, he said the tour was a good refresher course for him as he works with constituents of various issues that may come up.
The needs are also important to remember as talks continue on the state budget for the next fiscal year. “It all comes down to funding, obviously. It’s a critical part of the funding process which is now underway,” Reynolds said.
Shewell knows all about funding.
A quarter of Safe Harbour’s annual budget of $632,000 comes from fundraisers — and he told the officials on the tour the exact amount of time remaining in the fiscal year to raise it.
Safe Harbour houses an average of 105 people in its facilities on any given day. It’s also one of the few shelters in the state to serve families as a unit, Shewell said. Right now, there are 25 children living in the shelter ranging from 5-months to 13-years-old.
That’s roughly half of the people seeking shelter daily at one of the four area shelters. In addition to Carlisle C.A.R.E.S., shelter is also provided at The Salvation Army and Domestic Violence Services of Cumberland and Perry Counties.
“Approximately 200, on any given night, are being sheltered by the four organizations in the county,” Bellish said.
Shewell said Safe Harbour doesn’t have an official waiting list for openings, but it communicates with the other agencies to fill vacancies as they come up.
“Unfortunately we have a ready supply of individuals,” he said.