October 8, 2013

Homeless shelter marks one year at bigger building

Officials say demand still growing as they eye more renovations

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — On the first day of school this year, 21 children were living at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter on Colby Street.

click image to enlarge

Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter Executive Director Betty Palmer stands in the second floor of the Waterville facility that is filled with items used by clients at the shelter. Plans are being considered to renovate the space for employment training and a daycare.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter Executive Director Betty Palmer, left, and Shelter Volunteer Coordinator Sheila Bacon confer in the multi-purpose room at the Waterville facility on Tuesday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter building’s one-year anniversary celebration

When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday

Where: 19 Colby St., Waterville

What: Brief remarks, 10 a.m.; tours of the building throughout the day; Eagle Scout recognition for playground work, 3 p.m.

It was the second-largest number of children the 40-bed shelter had ever housed at one time.

Shelter officials say they were sensitive to the fact that the children might be embarrassed about that, so they discussed whether to have the school bus pick them up at the shelter or from another location.

In previous years — when the shelter was in an old, run-down house on Ticonic Street — the children might have opted for the latter but be picked up elsewhere.

Not this time around.

“Those kids wanted to be picked up at the shelter,” said Susan Reisert, a member of the shelter’s board of directors. “There was much more of a sense of ownership, that this is where we are, and our lives are going to get better from here.”

The children’s decision might have had something to do with the fact that the 1-year-old, $2.7 million shelter is a large, attractive building in a sunny spot north of downtown.

It is a far cry from the cramped house on Ticonic Street the shelter occupied for 22 years, with just 18 beds, before the new building opened a year ago.

With more space and a better location, the shelter can house more homeless people, connect them with more resources and help them learn life skills designed to help them get them back on their feet, according to Reisert, chairman of the board’s development committee.

“It’s an emergency shelter,” she said. “It’s there to meet people at an incredibly desperate hour.”

To celebrate the shelter’s one-year anniversary, officials will host an open house from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday. Former shelter guests will talk briefly about how the shelter helped them, volunteers will share stories of their experiences, and young people will be honored for their work to build a new playground there. Dirk Kershner, chairman of the shelter’s board of directors, also will speak; and tours of the shelter will be given throughout the day.

Shelter officials also expect to announce a plan to install a $65,000 elevator in the building. Already, $43,000 has been raised toward the effort, and an anonymous donor has pledged an $11,000 match if the shelter raises the final $11,000. Shelter officials expect to raise the money by the end of this month.

Having an elevator will allow the large, open second floor to be used for purposes not yet identified, but ones that will benefit both the shelter and the community, according to Reisert.

Both she and the shelter’s executive director, Betty Palmer, said a group of community officials, including City Manager Michael Roy and School Superintendent Eric Haley, are joining shelter officials to determine the best use of the space.

The group plans to hold its first meeting this month, Reisert said.

Monday night, around 55 people stayed at the shelter, according to Palmer. She expects that by the end of December, the new shelter will have served more than 500 people this year.

“We’re still turning people away,” she said.

When the weather gets colder, the shelter packs people in, giving them mattresses on the floor, chairs, cots — whatever officials can find, Palmer said.

“I tell people at the door, ‘All I have is a chair; all I have is a floor mat,’ Palmer said. “They say it’s better than where they have been sleeping.”

Shelter officials say they are seeing more people coming into the shelter with substance abuse problems, mental health problems and other difficulties. The number of homeless people seeking shelter and help is increasing, according to Palmer.

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