LEWISTON — Joseph Cope and Victoria Auger bundled their 6-month-old son in his stroller Thursday morning, then donned layers of winter clothing before leaving the warmth of the Trinity Jubilee Center at Bates and Spruce streets to plunge into subzero temperatures.
“I’ll tell you what: This is one of the best resources Lewiston has,” Cope said of the day shelter nestled in the heart of the city’s downtown.
The couple drops in at the center every day for lunch, snacks and clothing, said Auger, who added they have taken advantage of the center’s offerings for more than a year.
Recovering from addiction, Cope and Auger said they generally seek overnight refuge from extreme outdoor temperatures with friends as they headed for a city shuttle to take them across the Androscoggin River to a friend’s home in Auburn.
“It’s very important to have friends in this type of situation, just to give us a place to stay,” Cope said.
Besides heat and a warm meal, the center provides other necessities for them and their baby, including formula, diapers and personal hygiene items, they said.
“Right now we’re homeless, so they help us out a lot,” Auger said.
They have money saved for an apartment of their own but lack the funds needed for the security deposit. They are registered on all of the waiting lists for public housing.
“It’s a waiting game,” she said.
Before coming to the center Thursday, they had dropped by the career center as they usually do, Cope said, in search of jobs.
Cope and Auger were two of dozens of adults seeking refuge from bone-numbing cold Thursday during the latest cold snap that poses health risks for those who might otherwise be outdoors.
By noon Thursday, the center had handed out 20 winter coats, seven pairs of socks, two dozen pairs of gloves, numerous scarves, hats and boots, said Crystal LaChapelle, soup kitchen coordinator.
But the center is running critically low on cold-weather clothing, especially large and extra-large adult male coats and gloves, she said.
“Boots. Oh, my gosh! That’s a hot commodity,” she said. “We can’t keep them here. We bring them in and an hour later they’re literally all gone.”
Erin Reed, the center’s executive director, said they served more than 60 meals at lunch, some to homeless people and others to folks who were too cold in their homes. While they often serve 80 meals a day, many elderly people are unable to get to the shelter when temperatures plummet.
Tonya Sands, resource manager, said many couples who visit the shelter will leave their children at home rather than subject them to the cold, but still need to feed them.
“We know who they are and we put bags together for them to take home, including food staples and snacks,” she said.
Another refuge from the cold is the city’s public library, said Director Marcela Peres.
The library will see an uptick in visitors during days when temperatures soar in the summer and plunge in the winter, she said.
“In the winter, it’s a little more critical for everyone,” she said.
“We don’t place a requirement on what people do when they’re here,” she said. “So the library is a home for resources, but it’s also a home for community. It can be what people need it to be. Sometimes that’s a social space for people to meet their neighbors. For them to gather. And in the winter it can be for warmth. It can provide water and a windbreak.”
But the library offers far more than refuge from the cold, she said.
“Most people who come here, ostensibly to get out of the cold, are really not just sitting here doing nothing,” she said. Besides reading for pleasure, they can use the library’s many resources for seeking jobs, shelter and other necessities.
“I’d say that some people who come in here once or twice for escaping the cold end up being some of our strongest proponents,” she said.
For those local residents who struggle to find shelter or are home without heat when temperatures take a nosedive, law enforcement officials are often the resource they turn to, Lt. David St. Pierre said.
“We try to be more mindful of the homeless population than we might otherwise be aware of them on those days of extreme temperatures,” he said.
“We do a lot of referrals to the shelters,” he added.
Officers also are on the lookout for pets left outside and other vulnerable populations, such as checking in on shut-ins and the elderly.
“Really, it’s acting like a social service agency,” he said, when those offices are closed for the night or weekend.
They also assist fire officials on calls from residents who are heating their homes without adequate ventilation and risk carbon monoxide poisoning, he said.
At Hope Haven Gospel Mission on Lincoln Street on Thursday night, the 34-bed shelter had a few empty beds in spite of the frigid weather. A worker there said the men’s dorm was almost full while there was a little more space in the women’s dorm.
Hope Haven often operates at capacity or near it this time of year, regardless of the weather outside.
It was more or less the same at St. Martin de Porres on Bartlett Street in Lewiston. A worker there, Jim, said they had pretty much the usual number of residents for this time of year.
St. Martin has 10 beds — three reserved for women — although a second 10-bed facility is planned in the future.
In Lewiston, it was single-digit temperatures throughout the day. In Portland on Thursday, the temperature never got above 8 degrees, which the National Weather Service says broke a record set back in 1946. In Concord, New Hampshire, the high for the day was 5 degrees, also a record.
The temperature predictions overnight and into Friday morning were breathtaking: It was expected to get down to minus 20 degrees in Lewiston, minus 13 in Rumford and minus 20 in Rangeley.
The average high temperature for this time of year is around 34 degrees in most areas.
Victoria Auger boards a free shuttle bus in Lewiston with her baby to go to a friend’s house to escape the cold, with the baby’s father, Joe Cope, behind her. The two, who are homeless and in recovery, ate lunch at Trinity Jubilee Center and picked up a warm winter coat for Joe, some baby clothes and a sweatshirt for Victoria. They made plans to go to Kennedy Park on Saturday, where another winter clothing giveaway is planned, to look for a winter coat for Victoria. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
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