January 24, 2013

Warming shelters busy in deep freeze

Area shelters providing for those who need a warm place to stay

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

NORRIDGEWOCK -- Having growing up in central Maine in the 1930s, Ed Weston remembers days when the temperature ranged between minus 50 and minus 32. He walked to school in it.

click image to enlarge

Ed Weston Weston said he goes to the Norridgewock warming center often because he enjoys the food and the chance to socialize.

Staff photo by Rachel Ohm

That was when the Madison elementary school was still on Main Street, in a building that is set to be demolished later this year.

"It's much warmer now than it used to be," said Weston, who is 87 and now lives in Norridgewock. On Thursday morning he was eating a lunch of spaghetti and meatballs at the First Congressional Church warming center, which is open weekly as a respite from the cold for the community.

In Waterville and parts of Somerset County, people are congregating in shelters and warming centers such as the one in Norridgewock. Workers and volunteers in the area say they are busy but haven't yet had to turn people away.

Weston was one of about 60 people to be served by around noon Thursday at the church warming center in Norridgewock. The center is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Thursday, said volunteer Betty Libby, 64, and it usually serves 70 to 80 people, either at the church or through home delivery of warm meals.

In Waterville, Betty Palmer, the executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, said the shelter has seen an increase in the number of elderly people this winter because many of them live in poorly insulated homes that are too expensive to heat, and they also feel the cold more.

In addition, she said, numbers at the shelter have been higher in general because there is a shortage of state housing vouchers available for the homeless.

"There are people sleeping on the floor everywhere, including the floor of the lobby," she said. "I think it's hard if you've worked your whole life and have to ask for help."

Bill Oakes, shelter supervisor at Trinity Men's Shelter in Skowhegan, said about 50 people are staying there, although maximum capacity is 60.

"We've had stable numbers this winter, usually between 50 and 60 people," he said.

Libby said numbers were up this week in Norridgewock, however, in the midst of some very cold temperatures.

"People can come and sit down, have a hot meal and stay warm. A lot of people are staying longer today," said Libby, who is also a deacon at the church and has been working at the warming center since it opened three years ago.

Palmer said even people who aren't homeless might not be able to insulate their homes properly, so they come to the shelter for help.

"We really see the desperation in their faces when it's this cold. We say here that there is no shame in homelessness, but I think people feel ashamed when they come," she said.

Weston, who was eating lunch on Thursday with a friend, Rita Wood, 80, said he comes to the warming center often because he enjoys the food and the chance to socialize.

Wood also said she comes frequently, but decided it was essential on Thursday after waking up to frozen hot-water pipes.

"I've had my cold water freeze before, but never the hotwater pipes," she said. "That was a first."

Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368

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