February 21

Skowhegan homeless shelter could open for families

The effort, spearheaded by the Trinity Evangelical Free Church, highlights surveys showing more homeless in Maine.

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — Rick Berry was 7 years old when his home in North Anson burned to the ground.

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SHELTER: John Whitney, 33, lights a cigarette Thursday outside the men’s shelter at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Skowhegan. Whitney is a client staying at the men’ shelter. The shelter accommodates only men but has bought property that soon will accommodate families.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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NEW SHELTER: The Rev. Richard Berry stands on Thursday outside a newly acquired home that will be used as a shelter for families at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Skowhegan.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additional Photos Below

He said if it hadn’t been for his family, he would have been lost.

It is that memory the Rev. Richard Berry, now 65, senior pastor at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Skowhegan, said he used to open a men’s homeless shelter the church runs on McClellan Street.

Now he wants to open a shelter to families without their own homes, with recent surveys showing a growing homeless population in Maine believed to number in the thousands.

On Thursday, Berry closed on the purchase of a house and barn on land that abuts church property on West Front Street. The property will be renovated to become a homeless shelter for families, which could open this year if donations keep coming in.

The men’s shelter is licensed for men only — no women, no children. Berry said he wants to keep families together.

“That could have been me when we burned out,” Berry said. “We burned out and everything went — the house, the barn, everything. But I never was scared, because I had Mum and Dad.

“That’s what I picture when I get a call from these families. As a kid, I’d have been destroyed if Dad couldn’t have been there with me. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

The church paid $50,000 for the foreclosed home at 84 Front St., plus closing fees. Berry said he raised the money in six weeks through donations from his speaking engagements across New England.

He said the timeline for renovations and the opening of the family shelter will depend on the community and how fast donations of time, money, labor and materials come in.

“What I’m trying to do is get the community and church to work together,” he said. “The community is not the government. I’m not talking about hooking up with state or federal. I’m not talking about church and state; I’m talking about church and community, and I don’t think those two have to be separate.”

Berry said he is getting the keys to the house next week, once the paperwork is finalized with the bank. The next step, he said, is a visit by Skowhegan Code Enforcement Officer Randy Gray and a tour of the property to bring everything up to code.

The two-story farmhouse has four bedrooms upstairs and large rooms on the main floor. The barn is large and will be converted to accommodate family living, Berry said. He said the large yard will be fenced off as a play area for children.

He said once the renovations are complete, the Trinity Family Shelter will house eight or nine families at a time.

“I’m doing handstands. I’m excited,” he said. “This area is in desperate need of a family shelter. This is going to mean when we get calls, we’ve got a place to keep Mum, Dad and the little ones all in one place, and that’s important. I’ll sleep a little better when I know families are together.”

Recent studies of homelessness in Maine estimate the population at up to several thousand people.

The Maine State Housing Authority last year released a survey of Maine’s homeless population, counting nearly 1,200 people who didn’t have a place to live one night in January 2013. The housing authority reported 1,175 people were living in emergency shelters, in cars and tents, and on the street in the annual Point in Time Survey on Jan. 30, 2013.

Of that total, 480 were in Portland and 695 were in the rest of the state. The number included 297 families and 169 children. The tally represented an 8 percent increase over the 2012 survey, when 1,050 homeless people were counted.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

SHELTER: Edward Myshralo, 55, of Presque Isle, settles in for his first night Thursday at the men’s shelter at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Skowhegan.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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SHELTER: Dan Taylor, 43, of Winthrop, rests on his bunk Thursday at the men’s shelter at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Skowhegan. Taylor has been staying at the shelter for two weeks.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

 


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