AUBURN — Being home for the holidays, for many, means gifts under the tree, full stockings and a hearty breakfast or dinner with family, friends or neighbors. But for many, having a home to celebrate in at all is not a guarantee.

That’s why the Pleasant Street Drop-in Center put on its first Christmas dinner Sunday, bringing together between 40 and 50 people experiencing housing instability.

The center was one of a few organizations in the Lewiston and Auburn area to hold free community dinners.

The drop-in center opened its doors at the First Universalist Church in February as a warming shelter and, in April, as a low-barrier day shelter on the weekends. Its mission is to provide homeless people with clothing and camping gear, toiletries, snacks, hygiene products, other essentials and some of the help people need in connecting with services.

The center provides lunches Wednesdays and Saturdays.

“We’re doing our best to provide the basic necessities,” said center volunteer Angela Essman. “When people have nothing, at least we’re giving them something they need. I guess I just want people to know everyone should be grateful and not hateful.”

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While working over pans of ziti, Diane Chasse said she’s been with the center from its first day. The center and its mission resonate with its volunteers who want to see those who are struggling to overcome their situations and help each other up.

“It’s been gratifying to see this grow and people get to know each other, socialize and watch out for each other,” Chasse said. “I think it has helped people physically and emotionally.”

Kayla Little said for her family of six, a home for the holidays looks much the same as any other day: two air mattresses, a television and a mostly empty refrigerator. She and her husband, Shaughn, have had a rough run of luck, but managed to transition with their children from Sun Valley apartments in Mexico to Pierce Street in Shaughn’s hometown of Lewiston before their 30-day stay would have come to an end with an eviction notice.

“We had to leave all our things in Mexico,” said Kayla Little. “If we didn’t find this place, we would have been homeless.”

Homelessness is not a new concept to Little, who said she’s been there off and on between Maine and her home state of North Carolina. But that is not what she wants for her children, Asher and Harper, 2 and 1, or Shaughn and his two children.

Kayla’s first experience with homelessness was when she left home as a teen. She ended up at a youth shelter, but when she reached legal adulthood, she couldn’t get into the adult shelters. Moving back in with her parents didn’t work out, so she ended up facing homelessness on the streets of Portland before getting into Lewiston’s Hope Haven Gospel Mission.

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Kayla met Shaughn via social media while there and, when she moved on to Bartlett Street, they discovered they lived in the same building and got to talking and hanging out more often.

At the time, Shaughn was just off a five-year relationship and was hesitant about getting serious too soon. Mutual friends encouraged the two to continue spending time together and the dynamics began to shift. When Kayla found out she was pregnant with their first child, they knew they would have to find a new place to live since the boarding house didn’t allow children.

The Littles moved to North Carolina briefly, but that didn’t work out. That’s when they found a living situation in Mexico before moving back to Lewiston. But that, again, was without most of what makes a home a home.

“We have no couch, we have no bed, no furniture at all. We have nothing. I mean, we have clothes and toys and stuff like that, but we had to leave everything else behind. Trying to find resources for that and not having the money for it and coming back here — everything has changed. It’s rough right now.”

The Pleasant Street Drop-in Center in Auburn hosts its first Christmas dinner Sunday. The meal featured an Italian theme with lasagna, garlic bread and meatballs. At least nine volunteers and two of the center’s guests helped prepare and serve the meal. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

She said there are no services to help people move their belongings and the replies they get on social media are offers for help in exchange for money they do not have. While asking for and receiving help can sometimes be easy, it most often isn’t — especially when it comes to finding a caseworker among the day-to-day things and efforts to bring their belongings home from Mexico, she said. She said there’s really no way to catch a break aside from the good graces of their current landlord and the hospitality of the folks at Pleasant Street Drop-in Center and other places like it.

“This Christmas dinner honestly does help so much. We just moved into our place and we have no food, no nothing right now barely. We weren’t able to get anything for Christmas dinner, so I think it kind of helps people who don’t have a way to eat to be able to come and spend time with people on Christmas. That’s kind of what the holidays are for. We’re supposed to help people, not be mean. Many people don’t really care about that and it’s sad.”

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The Littles said they do what they can to pay it forward, but it helps to be in a better position where you can. Kayla said she is constantly encouraging their friend, Mike, who is homeless, to come in, hang out and keep warm.

It’s the little things.

“We try to help when we can,” Shaughn said in a rare break from chasing Asher around. “But we’ve learned not (everyone) is good.”

“And people seem to think we’re doing good right now,” Kayla said. “But we’re actually kind of struggling.”

The Pleasant Street Drop-in Center is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays for homeless people and for those at risk of becoming homeless. Anyone interested in volunteering for the center can contact pleasantstreetdropincenter@gmail.com.

Amber Hitchcock chats with Bobby Malloy while enjoying Christmas dinner Sunday at the Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston. Ruebin Hardy joins them on the right. “I think it’s pretty cool how people come here on their own Christmas Day to serve us food,” Malloy said, “It’s not a selfish act.” Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

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