Not your average shelter equipment: Western Maine Homeless Outreach exists for children. Play and fresh air are essential services. Submitted photo

FARMINGTON — Andrew Parlin, Western Maine Homeless Outreach’s Shelter Coordinator, is a Farmington resident and graduate of Mt. Blue High School. He oversees the services that shelter guests navigate through to move from homeless to self-reliance. Among the services families get access to?

“There is a lot to it,” Parlin said. Financial preparedness training is sponsored by TD Bank to help them learn money-handling skills and about programs for first-time home buyers. Guests can tap into Rent Smart, a Maine State Housing program that focuses on budgeting, landlord relations and rental applications, contracts and laws.

Because acquiring permanent housing requires more intrinsic knowledge, WMHO works with Healthy Food Coalition to hold healthy cooking and nutrition classes. There is also a resume writing class, childcare support, and access to resources to maintain housing, like heat and security deposit assistance.

“We have four paid staff who work with each family at the shelter,” Parlin said. “It’s not just a place to stay warm at night. Our mission is to give the assistance necessary for families in Franklin county to move into a home to call their own, and to secure their own future.”

An important focus for staff is ensuring that children who stay at the shelter can continue to attend the school of their last residence. Much of the shelter’s support for families is provided by just three volunteers.

“We help people move into their homes,” said Parlin. “That is always a big day for all of us. And we follow up with them afterwards. Our support doesn’t end when a family has gone.”

Parlin shared the stories of two former guests willing to recall the time they spent in homelessness and the challenges to move beyond it.

“Jo” lost her home when the rent on her apartment increased and her family could no longer afford to pay the rent. She was already employed, but losing her apartment while living paycheck-to-paycheck was more than she could overcome. She was referred to Western Maine Homeless Outreach by Maine Families, a statewide network of community teams serving the needs of pregnant women and parents with newborns.

With no place to stay for more than a few nights at a time, Jo turned to WMHO for help. She and her two children spent six weeks at the shelter, which gave her time to access resources to care for them while she took steps to find and secure a new apartment.

“WMHO helped me figure out how to keep going,” said Jo. “There are different types of housing vouchers, but I also was able to utilize programs that would help us keep an apartment, like WIC and HEAP for heat. They helped sort through the Maine State Housing Authority programs, and I was able to get security deposit assistance.”

Being homeless was a scary period for Jo and her family, even with WMHO’s assistance.

“Before we got to WMHO’s shelter, I didn’t know where we could stay from one night to the next. I didn’t have a vehicle. Once we had a place we could stay, it was still stressful trying to juggle my work schedule, take care of my kids. Adjusting to shelter life isn’t easy, and doing all that while being on wait lists for our next apartment? It was hard.”

Jo is thankful she was able to stay at WMHO when there was nowhere else to turn.

“Now we have a home. I have a car. I can make my work and raising my kids my main focus,” she said.

“Pat” moved to Maine with her husband and son when they lost their California home during a wild fire. With no place to live out west, they made the decision to come to the Farmington area to help out a friend in need. They literally had to start a whole new life from scratch. Pat and her family also stayed at the WMHO shelter for six weeks.

“I found out about the homeless shelter through the United Way,” Pat said. Pat’s son has special needs and her case manager Diane Alexander helped her find child development and mental health services, a new primary care doctor, and with parenting classes. She was able to qualify for WIC and MSHA assistance as well. Alexander also worked with her to create a savings plan and learn budgeting.

“We really didn’t know where we could go,” Pat said. “Until I found WMHO it was all I could do to hold myself together. And I learned a lot while I was there, just filling out paperwork correctly was hard to do.”

Now Pat’s family has a place of their own to call home. She is able to take care of her son herself and she is looking to the future—making plans to go to vocational school so she can continue her way to financial independence.

These two families have made the transition to a better life in homes of their own, but more always come out of the shadows for assistance.

“While Living Waters provides WMHO with a secure location, we have outgrown the space they have available,” said Parlin. “The average family size that we take in is 3-5 people. That means that it can take just 3 families to fill us to capacity. With the average stay here being about four weeks, at times we have to turn families away. A sixteen bed facility is not enough to serve the needs of Franklin county.”

For homeless families in need, support is urgent, available resources are complicated and action can be slow to execute. But WMHO is resolved to attack the issue and provide them support.

“The best part of my job is helping those in need,” said Parlin.

And the worst part?

“I really enjoy all aspects of this position,” he answered. “There is no downside.”

The mission of Western Maine Homeless Outreach is to provide emergency shelter to homeless families from Western Maine. Their goal is to transform futures by strengthening families to become self-sustaining. They are often in need of specific sizes of children’s clothing or diapers. They also periodically request donations of household items and furnishings. Visit them on Facebook to find out what they are looking for day–to–day, or visit their website to sponsor a family in transition.

Andrew Parlin, Coordinator/Navigator for WMHO. “The best part of my job is helping those in need,” he said. Submitted photo


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