Sunday, April 20, 2014
WATERVILLE — The city has 30 fewer beds for the homeless after the closing of a temporary overflow shelter that opened last winter.
Executive Director Betty Palmer of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter stands in the over-flow homeless shelter at the First Baptist Church on Elm Street in Waterville.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
The shelter was opened Dec. 1 in the basement of the First Baptist Church to house people overnight who were turned away from a crowded Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter on Ticonic Street.
The overflow shelter, which closed April 15, had 30 beds and housed between 17 and 30 people a night, according to Betty Palmer, executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, which has 18 beds. It was created by the Waterville Area Homeless Action Group, a group of volunteers who worked with the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter.
Arlene Tully, pastor of the Pleasant Street United Methodist Church, was an action group member who volunteered at the overflow shelter in the evenings. She said the shelter went from idea to inception in six weeks.
"I just think it showed how a community can come together to address a need when there is a small catalyst to make it happen," Tully said. "There were hands in this effort from all corners of the community."
One in four people who stayed at the overflow shelter was a child, according to Palmer.
"We were amazed at the number of families," she said. "We had infants straight from the hospital -- under a month old. That's fairly new to homelessness in this area."
Eight-seven percent of those who stayed at the overflow shelter left for some type of permanent housing, she said.
"We placed one person at the shelter in Skowhegan and everybody else in housing," she said. "We brought four to our Ticonic Street shelter."
The overflow shelter, like the Mid-Maine shelter, offered social service resources to help people become independent. It opened at 6 p.m. and closed in the mornings at 7. In February, officials started to keep the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter open during the day because of children and infants who needed to be warm and have a place to play, according to Palmer.
The First Baptist Church allowed the overflow shelter to be housed free of charge in its basement, with the homeless shelter paying only for expenses. The only challenge was parking, although some neighbors were very supportive and allowed shelter volunteers to park near their homes, according to Palmer.
Kevin Joseph, chairman of the Board of Directors for Mid-Maine Homeless shelter, said the experience with the overflow shelter helped officials to plan for the new shelter.
For instance, some people have difficulty sleeping in small rooms and liked the open space of the church basement, so the new shelter will have some open space also, he said.
"It was fabulous," Joseph said of the overflow shelter, "and people felt really comfortable there."
There's no question that homelessness is increasing, according to Joseph and Palmer.
"Today, we turned away 19 people because the overflow is closed," Palmer said April 15, the day the overflow shelter closed.
She said she referred those people to other shelters, which likely also were full.
"We're the only business in town looking to go out of business, but it's not going to happen real soon."
People who stayed at the overflow shelter included those who were working part time but did not make enough money to pay for housing, she said. With social service and other help, some people were able to get jobs and apartments, she said.
People were generous in helping make the shelter work, she said:
"We had 136 volunteers and some staff from the homeless shelter. We had wonderful assistance from the community. People brought snacks and food and clothing and bedding. It was just an incredible community outpouring."
The overflow shelter, which has a temporary two-year winter permit for overflow, is scheduled to re-open in November, with management and scheduling to be handled again by Mid-Maine officials, Palmer said.
The Waterville Area Homeless Action Group will honor many volunteers who helped with the homeless effort at an event at 6:30 p.m. May 12 at the Methodist Church. Palmer said the public is invited.