Carmalita Cahill, the executive director at the Carbondale Warming Center, cleans the frequently-touched surfaces March 4, 2021, in Carbondale, Ill. She is passionate about taking care of others and doing the best she can to help others feel safe and understood. “One of the things that we’re rooted in is humanity, dignity, and empathy, and I think those are things that if you look around the country, around the world, that’s what everybody wants, and if we can show that to everybody in our society, how great would we be,” Cahill said. Sophie Whitten | @swhittenphotography (Sophie Whitten | @swhittenphotography)
Carmalita Cahill, the executive director at the Carbondale Warming Center, cleans the frequently-touched surfaces March 4, 2021, in Carbondale, Ill. She is passionate about taking care of others and doing the best she can to help others feel safe and understood. “One of the things that we’re rooted in is humanity, dignity, and empathy, and I think those are things that if you look around the country, around the world, that’s what everybody wants, and if we can show that to everybody in our society, how great would we be,” Cahill said. Sophie Whitten | @swhittenphotography

Sophie Whitten | @swhittenphotography

Samaritan Saturday: Carbondale Warming Center offers housing, food and clothing to homeless community  

March 6, 2021

The Carbondale Warming Center has its doors open to the community and is ready to provide assistance to anyone in need of shelter, food, clothing or other resources. 

The Warming Center started in winter 2018 in the Gaia House Interfaith Center as a place where homeless people could keep out of the cold and have a place to spend the night. As the program grew, it was relocated to the Civic Center, a group of trailers and finally to its own building on East College Street.   

 Today, the Warming Center is a far-reaching organization, helping people of all different ages who come from all over the Midwest. There are currently 38 people housed there, with many more stopping by for meals and other necessities.

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The Warming Center staff comes from a wide variety of careers and skill sets that they use to assist their guests, with backgrounds in law, finance, social work and other fields. 

Teneshkia Wright, an employee and representative, explained how the Warming Center is more than just a shelter. In addition to providing shelter and meals to the homeless community, they offer forms of medical, financial and educational aid.

“We also give out furniture for when they transition to their homes, or if someone calls needing things in the community, we also help with that. We help with clothes, coats. Basically, if we don’t have it, we’ll find somebody who does,” Wright said. 

Another resource the Warming Center provides is assistance for people seeking employment. Carmalita Cahill, the director of the Warming Center, said they have developed women’s and men’s empowerment groups as well as a goal orientation program. Sixty percent of individuals who have gone through the job program have found and maintained employment. 

“We help them with resumes, how to apply for jobs if they don’t know how. If they don’t have work clothes or shoes, we have funding to help them acquire those things,” Wright said. 

A large percentage of the guests have mental illnesses, and it is one of the goals of the Warming Center to provide help to those underprivileged individuals who are often afraid to seek help. 

“For example, if you have someone who is in their mind afraid,” Wright said. “They’re here, but they don’t want to give you their information, or they’re afraid you’re going to steal their identity. That’s a challenge for us, trying to get them housing or social security or disability.” 

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Cahill also talked about the challenges COVID-19 has presented to the Warming Center over the past year. Because many people lost their jobs in the midst of the pandemic, the community of homeless people and people needing financial assistance has been increasing rapidly. 

“So many of the places of the people that we served [would go to] for safety or security were closed,” Cahill said. “Your local fast-food restaurants, your libraries, all of these places, and there was a fear of gathering. So, we felt like, to keep us safer, it was better to be open 24 hours a day.”

Cahill said residents significantly benefited from the board’s unanimous decision in March 2020 to stay open 24 hours a day. It allowed staff members to spend more time working personally with guests, and it also helped slow the spread of COVID by offering a sanitary place for people to wash their hands and use the restroom. 

Though the Warming Center is not open to as many volunteers due to COVID restrictions, they are always in need of food, clothing, funding or any other donations people are willing to offer. 

Anyone in need of assistance may visit cwcentered.org to apply for housing or other resources.

Staff reporter Elena Schauwecker can be reached at [email protected]

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