FARMINGTON — Monday was a day to not only remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but a time for celebrating a local response to and increasing awareness of the injustice of homelessness.

About 45 people gathered at Henderson Memorial Baptist Church for a service sponsored by the Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry.

King devoted his life to help develop the “beloved community” among people of all races and classes, the Rev. Susan Crane of Henderson Memorial said.

“The beloved community is his global vision for a world of love and equality, in which all people everywhere have justice and peace,” she said. “Dr. King once said that ‘in the beloved community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it.'”

“It’s still in the process of being realized here on Earth,” she said. “We have a long way to go, but we’re on our way.”

When people appeared on Farmington streets last spring carrying signs stating they were homelessness, a group of local citizens, churches and agencies acted. Providing a night in a motel was only a Band-Aid approach to the problem, she said.

The result of their efforts, the Western Maine Homeless Outreach shelter, opened Nov. 11 in the basement of Living Waters Church at 547 Wilton Road. 

The group was aided and encouraged by Betty Palmer of Phillips, director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville.

“No one expects to be homeless,” Palmer said in a video message, “but 8,000 people in Maine will be homeless this year.”

That doesn’t include the ones not counted. Those staying with families or “couch-surfing” from friend to friend, she said.

Currently there are less than 1,000 shelter beds available in the state.

“The face of the homeless has changed,” she said. She encouraged viewers to learn who is homeless and how to help make a difference.

It’s young and old, veterans, single mothers and families whose incomes won’t stretch far enough for housing.

Some have jobs, but when someone is working less than 25 hours a week and bringing home $98 to $135 a week, they can’t afford an apartment, Palmer said.

It’s the 58-year-old video store manager whose job is gone. Even with training and help finding something else, it will be five years before he can make what he did.

Or it’s the 52-year-old woman, whose job was cut from 40 to 32 hours a week. She is $40 behind on her rent each month and only four months away from eviction and homelessness, Palmer said.

Or it’s the 77- year-old veteran of World War II who is too proud to come and ask for help, she said.

In the past, shelter stays were three to seven days. Now people are there 30 to 45 days or up to four months, she said.

“I dream too,” she said. “I dream of a day I’m without a job and the shelter is closed … and homelessness in Maine is gone.”

There are families here just a paycheck away from homelessness, Pastor Steve Bracy of Living Waters Church said.

Currently, 14 of the 16 beds are full, he said. Installation of a sprinkler system is needed to expand the new shelter up to 26 beds. The sprinkler cost is in the thousands, he estimated.

An offering taken during the service provided $1,192.81 for the shelter, Crane said later.

“What we need is volunteers to step up to help,” he said of a day program starting this week that will allow people to remain during the day for classes or to cook and do laundry. The shelter has to be staffed at all times.

“It’s a community shelter,” he said. “The community has given over $30,000 since summer to get it up and running.”

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