NORWAY — A group formed to prevent homelessness and get the homeless back on their feet made progress Thursday, even if the group’s name and the exact area they’ll cover are still up in the air.

When Mainers fall on hard times, often they don’t know where to turn. Churches often direct the needy to the local town hall. Town halls need paperwork and proof of need before they can grant assistance.

At a Paris Board of Selectmen meeting in November, Anne Stanley, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Norway, proposed coordinating with local towns and agencies to more efficiently direct those in need.

“As a parish priest, I don’t even know what questions to ask,” Stanley said Thursday. “I don’t know the system well enough. I don’t know what forms they have to fill out.”

The consensus of the brainstorming session at Stanley’s church was that local groups that provide aid, like churches and charities, need to create a resource guide to direct victims of foreclosures, homeless teens and other vulnerable groups to the proper sources of aid for their situations. It would be categorized by the type of need.

They also hope to create a resource center, or more than one, where a trained person can guide people through the process for aid, whether it’s help with heating oil, money for an apartment security deposit or professional clothes for a job interview.


For the early stages, there was talk of setting up a table by the food pantry in the basement of Stanley’s church, because it’s an area frequented by those in need.

The Paris and Norway libraries were also suggested as temporary resource centers, because nonprofit workers could use computers there to help people fill out online applications.

Stanley brought a newsletter from the Concord Homeless Resource Center in Concord, N.H., as an example of what they could create. She envisions a place “devoted to giving someone a cup of coffee, making them not feel like a pariah, and giving them help in such areas as telling them how to get a birth certificate.”

One undecided issue was the area the group will eventually cover. Suggestions ranged from Norway-Paris to all of Oxford County. “It’s nice to be widespread,” Kathy Richardson of the Rotary Club said. “But then you have to spread yourself wide.”

Because the core group so far represented Norway-Paris groups, she said, expanding to the whole county would involve roping in people from Fryeburg, Hiram and other towns and getting them involved with the project.

The 14 people present represented Rumford Group Homes, the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, Community Concepts, Avesta Housing, the Maine State Housing Authority and area churches. Norway Town Manager David Holt was also present.


Scott Tibbitts from MSHA said he’s seen similar groups sprouting up across the state.

“In the last couple of months I’ve heard from groups in Waldo County, Knox County, Aroostook County, Washington County. I haven’t seen this much grassroots work around homelessness since I first started in this field,” Tibbitts said.

One common theme was that the number of homeless people is hidden. Families are living with family members or friends and aren’t seeking aid because the stigma of homelessness is embarrassing to them.

The name of the group may leave out the word “homeless” so people don’t feel ashamed to go to them. “The next meeting, we’ll talk about our name,” Stanley said.

The group will meet again at 2 p.m. on Feb. 10 at Christ Episcopal Church. Stanley said she’s looking for more area people involved in working against poverty to attend and share ideas.

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