CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) — With near-record summer heat hanging in the air, a so-called “activists’ sleep-out” got underway in Carlisle’s Biddle Mission Park Monday evening to highlight how the pandemic is impacting homelessness.
The situation is dire organizers say, with many social services in jeopardy and incomes for some families dwindling.
One advocate describes the situation as “bracing for a tsunami of homelessness” once the state’s eviction moratorium expires at the end of August.
The pandemic is only worsening an already serious problem, others say.
“We are all one crisis away from homelessness,” said Chris Kapp, with the Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
Kapp said homelessness is a problem in rural America, not just in big cities, adding the average age of a homeless person in America is just nine years old.
“They don’t think about people who are hidden, staying in barns, staying in cars, staying in shelters, who are doubled up with other families,” Kapp said. “We don’t think about it because most of Pennsylvania is rural and when people think about homelessness they think about people under the bridge or on the sidewalk. Break out of the mindset that it’s just the guy on the bench, or under the bridge.”
Since the pandemic began in the spring, Kapp said calls to the 211 crisis line for housing have seen a 60% uptick in first-time callers.
“A lot of folks who are homeless have jobs, it’s just that they don’t make enough to actually be able to afford housing,” said Pastor Matthew Best.
Best runs the Truck Stop Ministry, which provides laundry, meals, and showers to those experiencing homelessness and who have found basic necessities at midstate truck stops.
Best said Monday those locations are often hot spots.
“If you’re homeless, where do you do laundry? People gotta do laundry. If you’re homeless, where do you get a shower?” Best asked. “We make sure people get a shower, these are real essential things that people need that people don’t even think about.”
Social distancing makes his job even more difficult. He says being homeless is often a full-time job of its own.
“These folks spend all day, all the time, trying to figure out ‘where am I gonna get my next meal, where am I gonna sleep tonight, if I’ve got kids what am I gonna do?'” Best said. “I think the biggest misconception is ‘gosh, if they just worked harder’.”
That anticipated tidal wave of homelessness was on the minds of many camping out overnight Monday into Tuesday morning.
“We are so not ready for that, it keeps me awake at night,” said founder of Hear Us, Inc., Diane Nilan.
Nilan travels the country in her camper, and has been on the road for years. Her work is focused on homeless children, many of whom are now without school meals.
She said turning a blind eye, won’t make the problem disappear.
“All these families are going to be totally disenfranchised without any means of survival in communities that are already reeling from the pandemic,” she said. “We can’t forget those that are on the bottom rung of the ladder. The shelters aren’t taking new people in to start off with, because of the pandemic, there’s no place for families to go.”
The best way to help, donate to shelters, churches or ministries.
For more information, you can contact Community Partners for Change at 717-249-0789 x162, or email info@CommunityPartnersForChange.com.