Homeless advocate Calvin Dube shows Ace how a pair of handmade socks can also be used to keep hands warm in downtown Lewiston on Tuesday. Dube checks on the homeless population in Lewiston and Auburn daily. He gave out knitted hats and socks to those he came across. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Calvin Dube has still been making his usual rounds during the COVID-19 pandemic, checking on people struggling with homelessness in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Calvin Dube talks with Ace, a homeless man that slept in a doorway Monday night. “The libraries being closed has been a tragedy to the homeless population,” he said. “The library is a place to warm up and a place to just sit down.” Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

On Tuesday, he handed out knitted hats and socks, the latter of which can double as mittens during cold nights.

For now, he said Tuesday, many of Lewiston’s homeless are living life much the same as they had been prior to the crisis, but there are added challenges. It can be more difficult to acquire food and supplies, and places that usually provide a chance to warm up and sit — like the Lewiston Public Library — are closed.

“These people who are homeless are vulnerable to the virus because of their general exposure to people,” he said, adding that many are already at-risk due to existing health or psychiatric issues.

Dube, a former longtime director of the Trinity Jubilee Center, said he recently spoke to a group of seven people living in an encampment along the Little Androscoggin River in Auburn. He’s hoping the current pandemic will highlight the need for a barrier-free, overnight homeless shelter in Lewiston, which he has been pressing city officials to pursue for years.

“Perhaps this crisis will bring to light the importance of actually having a shelter,” he said.

Meanwhile, organizations such as Trinity Jubilee Center are attempting to serve vulnerable populations while practicing social distancing — a delicate balance to maintain. Other area overnight shelters are restricting access or suspending intakes of new customers.

Homeless advocate Calvin Dube checks with a homeless man on the bank of the Little Androscoggin River in Auburn on Tuesday. He checks on the homeless population in Lewiston and Auburn daily. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

For the past two weeks at Trinity, the Spruce Street organization has been conducting its daily soup kitchen outdoors in the courtyard, with to-go meals prepped inside. For its day shelter, staff has measured out specific spots for each table and chair to make sure people are sitting at least 6 feet apart.

Executive Director Erin Reed said Tuesday that people are working hard to keep the local homeless population safe during the pandemic, especially as widespread closures have uprooted any sense of normalcy in daily routines.

“People are scared, they feel forgotten and alone,” she said. “So many places have closed. It is still so cold outside and people are very thankful that we are still open.”

Reed said because several other regional soup kitchens and food pantries have closed, there is a “huge need for food” as more people are out of work while their children are out of school.

Last week, Trinity Jubilee saw 20 new families and the food pantry is handing out 1,000 bagged lunches every week.

The center normally receives food donations from Hannaford and Bates College but because Bates is closed and people are purchasing huge amounts of food at stores, there is little food left. In response, staff has posted a list of food items it needs, but are urging people to have them shipped to the shelter rather than dropping them off in person.

Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston gave away gallons of milk Tuesday. The mission provides free daily meals to the homeless. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Reed is also preparing for the number of people using the shelter to increase in the coming weeks.

“People who lost their jobs are getting evicted if their unemployment claim isn’t approved quickly enough before rent is due so we expect the number of people using our shelter to increase,” she said.

While city and state officials have urged landlords to put off evictions and be flexible with rents during the emergency, there is nothing preventing landlords from proceeding with evictions. Eviction hearings will not resume until May.

At Hope Haven Gospel Mission, a 32-bed emergency shelter in Lewiston, several dozen gallons of milk sat in crates outside Tuesday for people to take, and the mission is still offering free daily meals. A Hope Haven spokeswoman did not return a call from the Sun Journal Tuesday regarding its response to COVID-19.

In Portland, officials announced this week that a gym at the University of Southern Maine would be temporarily converted into a homeless shelter to help cut down on overcrowding at the city-run Oxford Street shelter.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the shelter often exceeds its 154-bed capacity and cannot meet federal guidelines to keep cots or mats at least 6 feet apart during the pandemic. Guests at the shelter are now sleeping about 2 feet apart, city officials said.

The shelter announced its first coronavirus case late Tuesday.

Hope Haven’s beds are split between dorms on two separate floors.

Dube said Lewiston’s other overnight shelter, St. Martin de Porres, has suspended new intakes.

Giff Jamison, co-chairman of the Lewiston-Auburn Alliance for Services to the Homeless, or LAASH, said shelters outside the Lewiston-Auburn area are also suspending intakes.

Jamison, also the director of operations for the Brunswick-based Tedford Housing, said the organization has been able to facilitate social distancing at its adult shelter due to help from the city, which has paid for motel rooms for some of its guests.

“This has allowed us to create better social distancing within our small 16-bed shelter,” he said. “To facilitate maximum social distancing for health of our guests and staff we have suspended any new intakes at this time.”

On Tuesday, Dube said he plans to continue interacting with the homeless population during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I feel comfortable,” he said. “This is about people in crisis. They still need to be checked on.”

Staff Photographer Daryn Slover also contributed to this report. 

“I feel comfortable,” Calvin Dube said about interacting with the homeless population during the coronavirus pandemic. “This is about people in crisis. They still need to be checked on.” Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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