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Panel Addresses Regional Homelessness

John Adeniran ’19, Contributing Writer

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Panelists spoke about their work with homelessness and housing instability at a recent Clarke Forum lecture, compelling students to think about homelessness in the Carlisle community and the wider region.

“Unveiling America: Addressing Issues of Contemporary Homelessness” featured Jim Hoefler, professor of political science and coordinator of Dickinson’s policy studies program, Beth Kempf, executive director of Community CARES, Scott K. Shewell, president and CEO of Safe Harbour and Tim Whelan, executive director of the Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities.

The panelists discussed the Coordinated Entry System (CES) of Eastern PA, a resource provider service established two years ago to assist people who are or at risk of homelessness with shelter search and connecting to housing providers. It can be reached by dialing 2-1-1, or through sites like Community CARES and Project Share. 

“Our resources are scarce, our systems are overburdened,” said Whelan during the panel. “The real purpose of coordinated entry system is to use our scarce resources…in a very thoughtful way so that the most vulnerable in our community get served.” 

Local organizations such as Community CARES and Project Share provide housing and support services for those in need. 

“We provide a small space, actually high school lockers, for them to take all of their personal life,” said Kempf of the emergency shelters provided by CARES. “What do you put in a locker? What are you going to put in that locker today to live amongst fifty to seventy men, women and children?” Kempf asked, illustrating the limitation of residents’ storage.

Whelan stated that the most successful strategy for dealing with homelessness “housing first,” a method which aims to provide permanent housing and follow up with additional supportive services. However, there is a lack of available low-income and affordable housing units.

“We know that permanent housing is the key for these folks,” Whelan said. “The issue there is that while we know taking someone who is homeless, or about to become homeless, and putting them into permanent housing helps them do better, you need to have the housing stock with which to do it and that is a challenge in our community.”

Following the panel, Sara Duane ’20, who works for the Clarke Forum, said, “For me, it was very eye-opening to learn more about the impact of homelessness in Carlisle. As students who live on campus, it’s easy for us to get stuck in a bubble and forget about life in our town outside of Dickinson.” 

During the question and answer session, audience members were also curious about the relationship between students and the surrounding Carlisle community. 

One audience member asked, “I’d like to know what Dickinson students would like to do? I mean given all that you’ve heard and all the needs that are there, what would students like to do? How would they like to participate?”

A student responded, “I think the first step is finding ways to bridge that divide and get students integrated and involved. From there I think that looks differently for many groups of students. Some students come from very urban backgrounds, some students come from very rural backgrounds, students come from experiences where they may have had experiences of homelessness, or they may come from experiences where that is such a foreign concept. So, there is a certain level of education that has to occur.”

Shewell invited students and audience members to the Cumberland County & Borough of Carlisle Housing Summit, which will be held this Friday, March 8 in the Stern Great Room, as a tangible step towards involvement.  

The panel was held on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in ATS.

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Panel Addresses Regional Homelessness