May 24, 2011

LePage pitches in for homeless

Governor helps launch Waterville shelter’s fundraising effort

By Amy Calder
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- Gov. Paul LePage on Monday helped kick off a campaign to raise funds for a new $2.7 million Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter.

click image to enlarge

PROGRESS RePORT: Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter Campaign Chairman Doug Cutchin speaks about fundraising progress for the new shelter in Waterville on Monday. Gov. Paul LePage and the Rev. Susan Reisert, campaign vice chairman, watch in the background.

Staff photo by David Leaming

LePage is a former co-chairman of the homeless shelter and resigned after he became the city's mayor.

LePage, who was homeless himself as a child growing up in Lewiston, recalled the difficult early days at the Ticonic Street shelter in Waterville's North End.

"Back then, it was hand-to-mouth, week-to-week," he said. "We had to build an organization and it was hard work."

He was speaking to about 60 homeless advocates, city officials, volunteers and former homeless people who turned out Monday at Pleasant Street United Methodist Church for the kick off of the campaign, titled "Rebuilding Lives."

The current two-story, 18-bed shelter is in an overcrowded house that is more than 120 years old and is inadequate for the needs of homeless people, according to shelter officials. Staff must turn people away on a daily basis or find alternate housing. Last winter, a temporary shelter was operated at the First Baptist Church on Park Street to help accommodate the overflow.

The new 40-bed shelter will be built on Colby Circle, within walking distance of downtown and needed services for homeless people.

Officials have raised $1.6 million and still must raise $1.1 million, according to Campaign Chairman Doug Cutchin, who several years ago served as co-chairman of the shelter with LePage.

"Paul was part of our early decision that we, as a board, wanted to do more than just provide an emergency bed," Cutchin said.

LePage's goal, he said, was to work as a team to help homeless people become independent so that they could live on their own.

"He was a bulldog about that," Cutchin said. "It was people like Paul that have served on the shelter board over 21 years that has brought us here today."

He and LePage unveiled a campaign thermometer that will be erected on Colby Circle so people can watch the fundraising progress.

Kevin Joseph, president of the shelter's Board of Directors, said he hopes people will consider giving to the campaign, to help homeless people turn their lives around.

"The shelter does -- and can -- help them gain independence, and gives them the tools and resources to improve their lives permanently," Joseph said.

The shelter's operating budget for this year is $387,740. Gifts from individuals, businesses and foundations account for 55 percent of the budget; 11 percent is from special events; and 34 percent, from public assistance funds.

The new building will be on one level and have separate living and dining quarters for men and women. It will have a kitchen, clothes and staples bank, offices for staff, a prevention and recovery library, children's play area, laundry facilities and program resource center, among other features.

Officials hope to start construction later this year.

The Rev. Susan Reisert, campaign vice chairman and a member of the shelter's Board of Directors, asked for a moment of silence for a baby who had been living at the shelter and died last week. The moment of silence also was to recognize the grieving family and shelter staff.

One of four guests at the shelter is a child and this past winter, the facility housed more infants than ever before, according to Reisert.

"Homeless people are hard to spot but they exist and unfortunately, they exist in increasing numbers in our community," she said.

The shelter serves homeless people from an area the size of Connecticut, all the way up to the Canadian border, according to Reisert.

Ten thousand children and 30,000 adults in mid-Maine live in poverty, she said. Since 1990, the shelter has served 6,000 children and adults.

(Continued on page 2)

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