Shawn Stanford walks through the rain toward a waiting ride Nov. 1 to get fuel for his propane heater for use at the homeless encampment in Waterville where he lived at the time. The encampment was within site of the Hathaway Creative Center, a well known mixed-use commercial and residential building, seen in the background. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Imagine being a homeless addict in recovery, living in a tent on the edge of town with no car.

You wake up at dawn. The light from the rising sun is hard to sleep through. Floodwaters forced you to make camp higher up a trail closer to the parking lot where you’re camping, and you no longer have the protection of a high canopy of elm and oak trees. You slept for three or four hours in temperatures well below freezing.

If you’re lucky, you slept on a mattress that you found in the trash. The fear looms of being forced to move your tent. It could be a weather event or eviction by the property owner. You never feel settled.

Your energy is low and your health is compromised. The diet you can afford is from a box and heavily processed. Hot meals come from a Cumberland Farms microwave.

This was the scene the last few months on the nature trail below the Hathaway Creative Center, a mixed-use commercial and residential building in Waterville, where a group of homeless people started camping last summer.

My apartment on the fifth floor of the center overlooks the Kennebec River and the trail, as well as the lives of the homeless who lived there.


During nearly 150 trips in both daytime and late-night hours over a span of many months, I came to know my neighbors in a very real and intimate way, stripped of superficiality. Looking from a distance was not an option and the invitation to “see what life is really like on the island,” as one resident of the encampment, Shane Moody, said, was my portal to challenge my notions of addiction and its connection to homelessness and how close many are to living this reality.

The island on the Kennebec where they were camping, I came to find, was a place of hard living tied together by many common factors. My first impression was there was a lot of drug use. But the longer I observed and talked with these people the more I realized drug use was secondary to their plight.

Poverty trends predicted their future long before they came to the island.

Intergenerational poverty and childhood trauma — either physical or emotional, or both — were the common thread. Drug use came later and poverty persisted in their lives from a young age.

Nights on the island featured the sounds of night terrors. Most days were filled with moaning from dope sickness or cotton fever, an illness that health experts say is characterized by the onset of a rapid fever immediately following the injection of drugs filtered through cotton. It leads to an uncontrollable feeling of coldness that overtakes the body. It’s described as “pure misery” by Amanda Frasier, who lived for a time on the island.

Inside the tents, people used drugs, both intravenously and by smoking meth on foil, though not everyone was an addict.


It was a place to exist that was within walking distance of most services in town — none of the people had a car.

Those I met at the encampment showed generosity and empathy, even as they faced profound struggles.

“I used to have to fight the rats for the last box of macaroni and cheese,” Frasier told me in recalling her childhood.

Frasier, a former certified nursing assistant, lived in a tent while her boyfriend, Shawn Stanford, washed dishes at a downtown restaurant. Her presence at the camp was necessary to prevent being robbed of what little possessions they had. And when Stanford was home, she would spend summer nights rummaging through dumpsters for food and clothes.

In this time-lapse photograph, the headlamps used by Shane Moody and Shawn Stanford streak toward a homeless encampment below the Hathaway Creative Center in Waterville on Nov. 28. Morning Sentinel photographer Michael G. Seamans, who lives at the Hathaway center, spent months with Moody and Stanford to capture their lives as working homeless men. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Moody said he didn’t begin using or injecting heroin until he moved into a tent on the island following a separation from his wife. Drugs became an escape and an excuse to not be lonely. He lost his job and had never before been in the position of renting an apartment on his own. He worked full-time as a dishwasher at a restaurant and paid his child support every month. Even with money in his pocket for an apartment, he couldn’t find one in his price range. Now he sleeps on an air mattress on the floor of a friend’s apartment.

Moody and others at the encampment were habitual drug users, but drugs didn’t appear to be used in the way most people often think about them. For these people, drug use wasn’t about partying but about trying to prevent painful withdrawal symptoms. Most who used drugs were also patients at a local methadone clinic. Island life was tough enough, never mind dealing with the harsh symptoms of withdrawal. Drugs were shared equally when needed to help keep people comfortable at camp, both for helping the addict avoid being sick but also as a way to keep the camp more habitable.


I witnessed people reviving others with Narcan after overdosing. I witnessed paramedics treat an overdose victim on one day only to see her back 24 hours later and overdose again. She survived.

Not all are so lucky. One woman — a transient resident of the encampment who traded her Toyota Tacoma pickup truck for 10 grams of heroin and fentanyl — later died of an overdose.

I witnessed them rummage through dumpsters for anything from food to clothes to gifts for their children or loved ones.

I witnessed them purchase heating fuel like kerosene and propane to heat tents for anyone who was cold and share tent space with anyone who needed it.

I witnessed them come together to create a living space for a person who couldn’t do it herself.

I witnessed them go to a job and work for a paycheck.


I witnessed them share what little food they had with one another. After a 10-hour shift of washing dishes, Stanford and Moody returned to the encampment with their shift meals of chicken and steak for the camp to feast on around the campfire.

I witnessed them take steps to get off heroin by going to the methadone clinic on a daily basis.

Everyone at the encampment was aware of their situation and blamed only themselves, whether it was their fault or not. Personal responsibility for their situation was evident, both in how they saw themselves and how they felt the community viewed them.

The main lesson I learned during my time with the encampment is that they are hard-working people who suffer from major trauma that predates the situation we find them in today.

With the arrival of winter, the encampment has scattered. Some have made it to a homeless shelter. Some have found their way home to a family member. Or, like Moody, they have found a kind soul who doesn’t want them to suffer needlessly. Either way, all are in a temporary housing situation and will likely be back on the street as soon as the weather is accommodating or at least not dangerous.

Michael Seamans has been a Morning Sentinel photographer since 2010. 

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