FARMINGTON — Western Maine Homeless Outreach, 547 Wilton Rd, has been a much-needed, and highly-used resource since November 2013. Located in the basement of Living Waters Assembly of God Church, the shelter has served hundreds of people and the need is only increasing. As the area’s only homeless shelter, its 16 beds are often filled to capacity. People without a secure place to sleep are often turned away.

Western Maine Homeless Outreach consistently turns away those in need of shelter. At maximum, the shelter can house 16 individuals in its three rooms. (Franklin Journal photo by Dee Menear)

“Sometimes it is a single person; sometimes it is a family,” said David Catino, one of the WMHO directors. “We are turning mothers with young children away in the winter but can’t just throw cots at them to sleep on.”

According to a recent report by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2,516 people experienced homelessness in Maine on a single night in 2018, an increase of 10.4 percent since last year. The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress is based on data collected nationally on a single night in January 2018.

Available bed space is not the only challenge facing the shelter. WMHO has reached the end of its 5-year lease with the church. At this time, the lease is being extended in 3-month increments.

“A 5-year commitment is certainly above and beyond what anyone else has done up to this point,” said director Jan Bell.

Catino heads the Building Committee, which has been charged with evaluating the current location and exploring options for expansion.

WMHO had been entertaining a move to Holman House, 227 Main St., which is owned by First Congregational Church. Extensive renovations to the building needed to be made to meet specifications for a shelter. The cost for those renovations came in at more than $130,000, which means WMHO was faced with another challenge.

“The church thought we were paying for the renovations,” Catino said. “If we had the money, it would be different. We just don’t have the money.”

Funding is a major issue for WMHO, said treasurer Bobbie Wheeler. “Initially, a lot of people gave a lot of donations. That has dried up,” she added.

“From a financial view, the idea of renting a building is practical,” he added. “We don’t have a lot of money and we wouldn’t be required to pay for building maintenance if we rented.”

The committee has identified other possible scenarios and key features that would be ideal for the shelter, Catino said. Features such as adequate showers and bathrooms, ADA accessibility and space for more beds – necessities which are lacking at the current location.

“Without a day program, guests are not allowed to stay at the shelter during daytime hours,” he said. “Wilton Road is a dangerous road to walk on, which adds a lot of complications.”

Often times, shelter guests lack a vehicle. Individuals and parents with young children walk the busy road to spend daytime hours at the library, recreation center or parks.

A downtown location would be ideal, Catino said. It would add to the safety of guests and put guests in closer proximity to resources such as the Department of Health and Human Services.

Frustratingly, the committee has found it is unlikely to obtain necessary features in a rental or preexisting building unless it was a nursing home or school building. “The specification for a shelter is basically the same as an orphanage,” Catino said. “It just isn’t happening.”

He said the committee also explored building a new shelter. It would cost an estimated $1 million to construct a new shelter which would meet the necessary regulations and building codes.

“We need a place to go but we don’t want to go broke doing it,” he added. “It’s a lot to think about. Anyone can become homeless. Any one of us.”

Catino said a lot of people want to help but they don’t know how. To help the shelter, either financially or through volunteering, call 491-4100 or visit www.wmhomelessoutreach.org.

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