Some spend the night wandering the streets of Fort Wayne. Others sleep under a bridge or in a tent or vacant car.
Some have a house or apartment, but they may not have heat, electricity or water because they can't afford to pay the utility bills.
At Ave Maria House, they find a welcoming spirit, a warm cup of coffee and the opportunity to shower, do laundry, make a phone call and use a computer to search for work.
“I always have people waiting on the porch when I get here,” said Dottie Carpenter, who manages the house, a ministry of St. Mary's Catholic Church.
People can help support the Ave Maria House, St. Mary's Soup Kitchen and two other ministries to the needy by attending a dance and silent auction from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at the church, 1101 Lafayette St.
Popular local oldies rock band The Bulldogs (frontman Spike recently retired) will provide the music. Along with the silent auction, there will be 50-50 drawings and food and beverages for sale.
Last year, the event raised about $15,000 for St. Mary's ministries, Carpenter said. She hopes they can raise that much or more this year.
In addition to the Ave Maria House and soup kitchen, the funds support the parish's St. Vincent de Paul Society, which helps poor people with utility bills and other needs, and the St. Martin de Porres Ministry, which organizes a Christmas giving tree, Easter party, Mother's Day baby shower and other events for needy people, Carpenter said.
At Ave Maria House, which opened in June 2008, the money it receives from the benefit pays for upkeep of its older brick home at 432 Madison St., across the street from the St. Mary's parking lot.
The donations also pay for utilities and other operating expenses, as well as coffee, cream, sugar and personal hygiene items for the homeless men and women who seek refuge there.
The house is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Carpenter estimates 30 to 40 people — about 95 percent are men — stop in each day.
Couches provide a comfortable place to sit in the living room. On a recent morning, one woman read a book while a few men chatted as “The Price is Right” played on the television.
A circle of chairs filled the dining room, where people sat, refilled coffee cups, or waited for their chance to use the phone, computer, shower or laundry.
They can take three showers a week and do two loads of laundry each week, Carpenter said. They also can use the address to receive mail.
“For most of these guys, this is home, because they don't have one,” Carpenter said.
She treats them with respect, and they do the same, she said, adding that she rarely has any trouble with or between guests.
No drugs, alcohol or weapons are allowed, and people who are drunk can't enter, she said.
Carpenter gets help from 20 to 25 volunteers, ranging from those who help two or three times a week to those who help once a month.
“You are always taught, if you volunteer, you give something, and you get something back,” said Dennis Doyle, a St. Mary's parish member who enjoys helping at Ave Maria House once a month.
“There are some genuine success stories over there,” Doyle added. “There are some people where a difference has been made.”
That chance to help others keeps Carpenter coming back.
She grew up in a family that struggled financially. An aunt, Dorothy Parrot, helped support her through school and served as mentor in her life.
“She said, 'If you get, you give,'” recalled Carpenter, who managed clothing banks at St. Mary's and St. Patrick parishes in Fort Wayne for a total of about 20 years before helping start Ave Maria House.
As she learned from her own experience growing up, sometimes it's not just the material things that make a difference, Carpenter said.
“Knowing other people care about you,” she added, “helps you do a little better yourself.”