THE STORY OF CARES
Community CARES (initially known as Carlisle C.A.R.E.S.) was organized in 2004 as a ministry of the Grace United Methodist Church (presently Carlisle United Methodist Church). After sheltering a small number of men for a night, church and community members realized that the challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness were far bigger than they anticipated.
Motivated by the vision that an emergency shelter in the county seat was a necessity, a group of local congregations and social service providers, led by Community CARES founder, Shari Bellish, began developing a plan to provide the support and services needed in the community. Initially, CARES housed three or four homeless individuals during the harshest winter months through a network of three churches. As support and the need for shelter grew, CARES was able to offer shelter year-round to as many as sixty guests each night. The organization officially became a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization in March 2009.
In 2010, CARES expanded its services to meet the growing needs of the homeless or near homelessness community. A Resource Center was developed and constructed at 50 W. Penn Street to meet the growing needs of the residents. The Center provides a place for CARES residents to shower, do laundry, receive mail, cook, and rest when they are ill. It also provides a place to meet with Supportive Service Coordinators to work towards housing independence.
In 2018, the organization which serves the entire Cumberland County Region, changed its name from Carlisle C.A.R.E.S. to Community CARES to better represent the demographics of its residents. In the same year, it expanded its resources further to better serve its residents. The organization became the Coordinated Entry System Walk-In Site to provide onsite vulnerability assessment to ensure fair and equitable access to existing community housing and emergency services. It also initiated Cumberland Street Reach, a program that engages, assesses and assists those living on the streets, in encampments, and/or at the risk of experiencing homelessness.
In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Community CARES had to radically shift its model for various reasons. All families experiencing homelessness were put in hotels, in total over 17 months 66 families were supported by these efforts. Men & Women shelter had a tougher time finding places to shelter and was invited to use the Franklin Street Community Center by Carlisle Borough for the first few months of lockdown. After we leased the American Legion Ballroom until November 2021.
In August 2021 CARES opened its own brick-and-mortar shelter facility in Shippensburg Cumberland County through a partnership with The Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania with the capacity of sheltering 17 families. Within that same facility Community CARES now has four recuperative care beds in partnership with WellSpan Health.
As of today, the Men & Women’s Shelter in Carlisle is partnered with St. Paul Lutheran Church. Thanks to this partnership CARES has been given the time it needs to work to complete a future full-time shelter for men and women located on Spring Garden Street.
Additional changes to the Community CARES programming that came during the pandemic include:
Access to the Day Center located at 50 W Penn Street Carlisle for all living unsheltered throughout the community and in need of laundry, showers, food, get out of the elements, and case management.
Homeless Prevention Services with a mission to keep as many people as possible from touching homelessness through eviction support and assistance to move more quickly from homelessness with funds to pay for the first month’s rent, as well as deposit and utility help. Additionally, diversion funds are given with the goal of providing transportation to a support system to end the client’s homelessness.
Partnerships like UPMC Street Medicine have been huge game changers for many of the unsheltered clients, which include UPMC Street Feet.
Severe Weather Shelter is offered during the months of November through March when temperatures are 32 degrees or below.
Community CARES is led by Executive Director Beth Kempf along with 20 staff members in three separate locations sheltering approximately 120 men, women, and children a night in Cumberland County. In order to provide the maximum benefit to the community, CARES works hard to avoid duplication of resources that are currently being offered in the community and makes every effort to collaborate with other organizations. Generous volunteers, businesses, churches, individuals, organizations, and foundations partner and support CARES to ensure that, if there is a vital need in the community, it remains in existence. We say that the team at Community CARES is the labor and the Community who support our work are the love and the light to so many vulnerable individuals in our community. Thank you.