Kay and Collyn stand Thursday in their outdoor kitchen set up next to their tent at the First Universalist Church of Auburn, Unitarian Universalist. The couple is trying to secure housing before the church’s Saturday deadline to clear the grounds of campers. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Standing in a makeshift kitchen, a few steps away from where they sleep in a tent on the lawn of the First Universalist Church of Auburn, the reality of Kay and Collyn’s situation was made even more stark by the rain falling around them.

It’s a situation in which Kay never imagined she’d end up.

A young couple in their 20s, they were the first to set up camp two months ago on the grass next to the church at 169 Pleasant St.

Just a year ago, they had been living together in Connecticut in a run-down apartment after a pregnant Kay had split from her husband.

They believed they could have a better life in Maine. They found a shelter in Rumford that could take them in until they could get on their feet. Collyn sold his possessions to pay for gas money.

“I had a giant 55-inch smart TV. I had an Xbox and I had a VR headset. I had to sell all that,” Collyn said.

One of Kay’s friends drove them to Rumford.

Due to a paperwork mishap, they spent the last of their money on a hotel, waiting to get into the Rumford shelter.

“We were promised that Maine was a better place. It is not,” Kay said. “I never thought I would ever become homeless a day of my life.”

They made their way to Lewiston after a string of bad luck in Rumford.

Many of the homeless shelters in Lewiston have religious affiliations, which doesn’t sit well with Collyn. “You can stay there and you can take a shower, but you have to go to service and you have to go to Bible study,” he said.

“I’m agnostic,” he said. “I’ll listen to everybody. But once you start to shove it down my throat, I’m like ‘Nah, I’ll learn on my own time.’”

By the time they made their way to the First Universalist Church of Auburn, they had made several attempts at finding indoor living situations. They say bad roommates and bad landlords forced them back onto the street.

Peter Floyd, a church member and volunteer who helps with the building maintenance, said when the couple began sleeping on the property, they did so without a tent.

“It was more like sleeping in the bushes,” Floyd said.

A tent was donated to the couple. After that flooded out, they purchased a second larger tent with their money.

Kay works full-time at a convenience store, and Collyn receives a Social Security check. Despite this, they still have not found a permanent place to live.

“We’ve had cash in hand. There’s nothing affordable unless you’re bunking up with somebody,” Collyn said.

The couple said it’s impossible for them to hold down jobs at the same time.

“Someone’s literally got to stay here and watch over our stuff, or it’s going to get jacked,” Collyn said.

Kay’s jewelry box was stolen from their tent.

“It meant the world to me,” she said. “I had family heirlooms. I had my kids’ stuff in it. I had stuff my mom made for me, and someone stole it from me. It’s not like the jewelry can be pawned. It’s cheap jewelry. But one of the necklaces was prayer beads from my nana that died.”

Collyn said he lost all his possessions in the nine months they have been homeless. “I have one item, a face mask, from my nine months of being homeless. Everything else is different. I don’t even have the same phone.”

Sleeping on the streets is proving to be physically and mentally exhausting. Not only are they subject to the elements, but they are open to attacks by passersby.

“Every little noise will scare you because you don’t know what’s coming next,” Kay said.

For a while, the couple cooked meals for many of the unhoused campers living on the church grounds, but Collyn got sick of it.

“Even after I’d feed people, people would still come in the middle of the night and steal food, like steal my stuff,” he said.

“There are drug addicts everywhere,” he said. “Theyll wake you up in the middle of the night. There have been scenarios where theyll ask ‘Yo, you got a cigarette?’ Im like, ‘No, I don’t have a cigarette, at 2 in the morning’ and all of a sudden theres knives out.”

“I have never gotten a full night’s sleep in Lewiston,” Collyn said.​

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