HARRISBURG, Pa. (WPMT) -- As record numbers of Harrisburg-area homeless are being welcomed into local shelters this week, a handful are still outside, and have no intentions on coming in.
Thanks to Harrisburg’s Bethesda Mission, help is on the way in the form of four wheels.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the Mission will send out a crew of staff and volunteers to the Harrisburg streets in search of local homeless. They call it the “Mission Mobile Van,” and they will provide food, warm drinks, and warmth, in the form of long underwear and blankets.
“We want to give (local homeless) things that will enable them to cope,” said Chuck Wingate, executive director of the Harrisburg Bethesda Mission.
This weekend’s run will be led by Bethesda Mission employee Carl Beardsley, who has been running these trips for 17 years. Beardsley was at one time homeless, and uses his experiences to connect with today’s homeless he meets.
“He's going to go to the dark places, shadowy places,” Wingate said. “People there know Carl is okay and they know the people he brings with him are okay.”
Each night, Beardsley and his crew of volunteers will leave the Bethesda Mission are 8:30 p.m., and will remain out until around 11:30 p.m. to midnight.
Meanwhile, inside the Bethesda Mission, the shelter is working at double its normal capacity.
The Mission holds 78 beds and at the start of the week, was home to 135 men. On Friday, that number jumped to 153 men staying overnight with that number expected to jump to 160 by Sunday.
The increase in bodies has led to a demand in food, utilities, and medicine. Bethesda Mission expects to feed over 3,300 meals this week while working up a $5,000 utility bill this month. They also are running through basic cold medicine at an alarming rate, with a month supply getting used in a two-week span.
“The thing we need most now,” Wingate said, “is money.”
Across town, the Harrisburg YWCA on Market Street not only needs money, but volunteers as well. Its shelter already has over 100 women in programs staying on a permanent basis, but YWCA staff have seen an increase in its emergency intake to over a dozen extra women.
“We cannot, in good conscience, turn people away,” said YWCA Program Director Mary Quinn. “But we don’t get any funds for doing this life-saving service.”
Quinn says each extra person they take in for the night costs the YWCA approximately $15 per day. It also has increased the work load for YWCA staff, and volunteers are needed.
“We need people to hand out blankets, to help them get set up in beds and cots,” she said. “We offer them a hot shower, and even the next day to help out with laundry. We have to wash bedding every night.”
Quinn adds the overflow of guests has led to sleeping cots being set up in YWCA office rooms.
Women living on the street are able to come to the YWCA between 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. each night, and stay until 7 a.m. the next morning.