'Living in hopelessness': Tri-county agencies trying to comfort cold neighbors

LEWISTON — Mike Burke hears the stories of old folks dragging their mattresses into the kitchen to conserve heat in a single room and of whole families sleeping together under stacks of blankets in cold houses.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Janine Champagne, right, of the St. Francis Recovery Center and Rebecca Grant of Western Maine Community Action participate in a discussion about funding cuts, at Community Concepts in Lewiston on Wednesday.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Representatives from several social service agencies talk about funding cuts, at Community Concepts in Lewiston on Wednesday.

"There's hundreds and hundreds of stories out there," said Burke, chief executive officer of Community Concepts.

The need is bigger than his agency's wallet.

"The one thing we don't want to do is give them false hope," Burke said. "Usually, we fall back on the church and other providers. I'll tell you right now, they're strapped. They're trying to raise funds."

The pinch is what drew Burke and others from their offices Wednesday to host a summit of United Way agencies.

In part, the meeting was meant to be a response to the LePage administration's plan to cut $120 million from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services budget next year.

But, when Burke and the others met, more immediate problems arose.

Some social-service agencies worried that they might empty their heating oil assistance funds before the weather turns truly wintry. And they lamented the shrinking of the federal Low-Income Heating Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP.

"If anything, we're entering a new era of what community requests are," said Gil Ward of the Leeds-based Rural Community Action Ministry.

"Somebody came in last week with five children, and in the middle of the discussion, I asked, 'What's your most pressing issue at the moment?'" Ward said. "The response was, 'Lunch for my children,' and it was 11 o'clock in the morning."

People need food and heat and safe places to stay, Ward said. It's happening all at once.

"The governor's budget is only going to make it worse," said Joleen Bedard, executive director of the United Way of Androscoggin County.

Heat seems to be the biggest issue, agency leaders said.

"We're getting 200 to 300 calls a day from people looking for fuel assistance," Burke said. Of those, about 200 each week are categorized as emergencies, with little or no oil left. People are being asked to move in with friends and spend days in a warming shelter.

"We want to keep people in their homes, warm and secure," Burke said. But the money is scarce.

Last year, LIHEAP money typically bought a household enough oil to fill the average 275-gallon tank. With less money available and higher prices, the average benefit has dropped to about 80 gallons.

"Some fuel companies won't even deliver less than 100 gallons," Burke said.

In response, the agencies are working with fuel vendors. And they are trying to raise donations.

One notion is to create a "Check on your neighbor" campaign, said Betsy Sawyer-Manter, executive director of Lewiston SeniorsPlus.

Another is to create special days of caring among United Way agencies to encourage donations.

"Part of our goal is to raise awareness," Bedard said. "We've had tough winters before. We've had skyrocketing fuel prices. But it's not just one thing. People who were living on the edge are living in hopelessness."


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Tim McClure's picture

Time to stop relying on government

Every time our government fails us we point fingers at the party in power. Bu they are not the ones at fault. It is our fault for not relying on ourselves. It is our fault for believing government has unlimited resources to handout.

My heart goes out to all of you. But the fact is, getting us out of this mess is going to create great pain. Lets stop complaining and blaming the other guy, and start finding our own solutions. Its time to look to our families, friends, churches and community for help. The less we have to hand over to Augusta and Washington, the more we will have for ourselves and people in need. The sooner we start, the faster we will heal.

Jacqueline Libby DeLasso's picture


Very well said my friend!!!

Jacqueline Libby DeLasso's picture


This is just pathetic!!!!!! While our Governor, and the rest of the politicians sit in their warm houses, have 3 meals a day, the people that voted them in, have once again been suckered in to believing, how things are going to change...they changed alright........for the flipping worse! Our elderly, and families who have lost their jobs, single parents trying to make ends meet have to suffer the brunt of the lies again..or should I say still! Yes, there may be the few that refuse to work and would rather use the funds. There are more than that few that really need the help. There are people with college educations, flipping burgers, our elderly having to be door greeters praying that their age won't be discriminated against and lose their supplemental income. Adults that may have special needs trying to work and be a part of the community are also facing the impending cutbacks.
But we will continue to send our jobs overseas, and make sure the (new) people who come here have the best of everything, using up the funds for our own. TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN FIRST!!!! Let the others fend for theirselves like we have to, most people do not have the luxury of opening businesses, which by the way seem to be used for other purposes other than what they should be. A hard working person seems to get shunned. All I can say is..No wonder so many refuse to vote, what is the use..Just so our own can get shafted like they do not matter! I say in my own opinion..You politicians should be ashamed. Yes we may be in debt...whose fault is that? Our fault? I think not.
Look after your constituents for once!!!

 's picture

It has nothing to do with the

It has nothing to do with the governer's budget and everything to do with the failure of the past 35 years of democrat control. They couldn't control their spending and usurious tax rates so now the burden has become too much for the fewer and fewer people left working in the state. The party is over and it is time to clean up the mess. Good job Rotundo, Craven, LaFontaine and rest of the mis-guided socialist utopians. Your shipment of fail has arrived.

Jacqueline Libby DeLasso's picture

Just my opinion

If it comes right down to it..does'nt matter republican, independant, democrat..the fact is our own people suffer while we cater to the (NEW) people. Yeah, to all who have been in office that have made this possible!!!! (sarcasm meant) No offense.just saying my thoughts!

 's picture

Thank goodness.

Yes, thank goodness the people who really care are finally in charge.

Jennifer Chretien's picture

I could be wrong but if they

I could be wrong but if they are referring to the proposed changes to the DHHS budget things could get worse for some people. If your income isn't enough to heat your home or but enough food for your family losing medical coverage will make things more difficult, there's no question in my mind about that. I don't want to debate how we got to this point and yes the Mainecare program needs restructuring. The changes that are being put forth will have a negative effect on people already struggling to make ends meet.


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