Woman seeking legal action to remove stepfather from Georgia homeless shelter

Woman seeking legal action to remove stepfather from Georgia homeless shelter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A homeless shelter in Columbus is in the middle of a dispute over the custody of one of its guests.

The House of Mercy has been caring for 90-year-old Jesus Carisma for more than a year and to locate his family, they asked for help.

When Jesus's story was first reported, people who knew him started calling the House of Mercy. The calls came in from all over the country, but the shelter says they won't let him go with just anyone.

"I was praying that we would get some calls with someone saying they know his family and where he was from, but nothing from his biological daughters," said Johanne Harris, Executive Director of House of Mercy.

Carisma came to the House of Mercy in November 2014. With no known family at the time, the House of Mercy took the elderly man into the shelter after being contacted by Saint Francis Hospital. Carisma could not remember who he was living with or where and also couldn't remember who dropped him off at the hospital.

Carisma's stepdaughter Juanita Castaneda, who lives in Fort Mitchell, was shocked after her daughter called her and told her he was on the news.

"Back in October, my sister told me he went back to the Philippines and passed away," said Castaneda.

Castaneda went to the House of Mercy the next day to bring him home and even brought pictures to show the shelter.

"I talked to Mrs. Harris that he was my stepfather, it was like she doubted me," said Castaneda.

Castaneda explains Carisma became the common-law husband to her mother Rosa in the Philippines in 1973. When they came to  Alabama in 2000, she was their caretaker for several years but lost contact with him over a year ago. Castaneda brought pictures of her mom with Carisma to show the shelter.

"Jesus Carisma had lived with me until May 2014 until my brother took him away from me. I wasn't aware he was in the House of Mercy," said Castaneda.

She says she has no contact with her brother because of family trouble. But for now, the House of Mercy will care for Carisma until a final decision as to who will care for him is made. Mrs. Harris says Carisma has expressed no desire to leave the shelter

"What I'm telling all of them is that when they contact one of his blood relatives-and he gave us names of three daughters, to please contact me. When he is released, he can go with them," Harris said.

Castaneda and her family is allowed visits and was able to visit him on his birthday which was Christmas Day, but she says that's not enough.

"I'm going to seek legal counsel to see if I can get him back," said Castaneda

"If they want to get legal counsel that's fine," said Harris "I could not rest if I released him to any of the people that he was supposedly living with here and not knowing if he was going to be treated fairly."

As for his common-law-wife, she passed away six months ago without knowing where Carisma was living.

News Leader 9 will keep you updated on if any legal procedures.

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