Randy Beard looks through a box of donated blankets, warm hats and mittens Friday at the REST Center on Main Street in Lewiston. William Scanlan looks on from the right. City ordinances prohibit the REST Center allowing guests to sleep, but they organized donations so people could bring blankets with them to the Calvary United Methodist Church at 59 Sabattus St., which was scheduled to open at midnight. Scanlan, who has been homeless for the past six years, was hoping to get a ride to the church at midnight. Due to problems he has with his legs he did not feel confident that he would be able to make the walk in the cold temperatures. Beard, who is a volunteer at the shelter, was homeless for 20 years. “There were days I woke up covered in snow,” he said. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The man’s name is William Scanlan but on the streets he’s known as Popz. 

Just before 5 p.m., the 57-year-old shuffled out of the minus 5 degree cold outside and into the relative warmth of the REST Center on Main Street in Lewiston. Shivering, he made his way through the crowded room, muttering a faint exclamation about the cold he had just escaped.  

By then, there were already nearly two dozen people crowding the REST Center, men and women hauling rolls of supplies stuffed into trash bags or backpacks. Popz didn’t have a lot to carry. For six years he’s been homeless in Lewiston and for most of those years he’s been spending cold nights in hallways, stairwells — any place at all to get away from the harsh conditions. 

But this weather? No way. 

“It’s not even worth trying to stay out there in this kind of cold,” he said. “I’m sure glad they have places like this being opened up because nobody is going to survive out there.” 

Popz was planning to stick around the REST Center most of the day and perhaps head up to the Calvary United Methodist Church shelter after midnight if he could manage a ride. He has bad circulation in his legs, does Popz, and sores that make walking difficult. 


Shelters were set up across the state with the two-day cold snap bringing deadly frigid temperatures. The REST Center was particularly hopping, in part because of its easy access from the downtown. 

As they mingled or sat at tables, the 20 or so homeless folks sipped coffee or noshed on whatever food was available. There were rumors that pizza was on the way, the result of a donation from a concerned citizen who just wanted to help out. 

That’s the way it was at each of the shelters, it seemed — they relied, in many ways, on the kindness of strangers. 

“Community is a beautiful thing,” said Molly Whyte, coordinator at the REST Center. “So many people have offered food and blankets; all kinds of great things. If Calvary has overflow, people will be able to come here so they’re not out in the elements too long. We’re used to cold here in Maine, but this is brutal.” 

As the center continued to fill up, those seeking shelter were also quick to help newcomers. They held the door open, helped to carry bedrolls and blankets, found chairs for those who needed to sit. 

Randy Beard was one of those helping out. He was no longer homeless, he said, but he had lived that life for 20 years and knows what it’s like to be without warmth and shelter when the weather turns mean. 


“There were days when I’d wake up covered in snow out there,” he said. 


A guest sleeps sitting up Friday at the REST Center in Lewiston. City ordinances prohibit the warming shelter from allowing guests to lie down on the floor. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

At about 4:30 p.m., a Lewiston police cruiser pulled up to the The Warming Center at Valerie Circle in Auburn. The officer climbed out of the car and helped out his passenger, a young man with his right foot in a medical boot and crutches under each arm. In one hand, the man carried a tattered trash bag with just a few items at the bottom. He was ushered into the Warming Center and greeted by staff.

By then there was already a decent crowd of people there, too. Some of these men and women had come over by bus from the Drop-in Center at First Universalist Church on Pleasant Street in Auburn, carrying air mattresses, blankets and bundles with them and staking out spots inside the building. 

Helping out at every turn was Steve Wallace, CEO of the YMCA Auburn-Lewiston on Turner Street in Auburn, who was going back and forth between the two shelters. 

“We’re glad to be able to help because we know how important this is,” he said. “In weather like this, bad things happen to people outside. We want to be a part of the solution.” 


Glen Holmes, director of Business and Community Development for the city of Auburn was pitching in, too. Like those at other shelters, Holmes said the generosity of the community at large was helping to save lives during the cold spell. 

“Everyone is coming together,” he said. “Everybody I’ve called to ask for stuff, they were like, ‘yes. We want to help.’ Every restaurant I’ve called has given us great deals so we can feed everybody. Community Concepts has been helping out. They’ve donated a bunch of stuff. The immigrant Resource Center, they’re doing the staffing. This is the time when community is supposed to come together and that’s exactly what’s been happening.” 

Across town, at the Drop-in Center, several homeless folks came in during the afternoon, gathering up donated supplies before taking a bus over to The Warming Center on Valerie Circle. 

While waiting for the bus, one middle-age man sat at a table, studiously changing out the soles of his shoes before making the trip. Others were stuffing all their possessions into garbage bags supplied by shelter workers. 

A 29-year-old man from Dallas, dressed in many layers and sporting a bright red hat, sat at a table with two of his friends. He’s known in the area as “Texas” and has been homeless since arriving in Lewiston a short time ago, spending most of his time in makeshift camps. 

“I camp here, there and everywhere,” Texas said. 


Although he’s not from Maine, he said he was wise enough to know that weather like this is not something to fool with, so he came to the Drop-In Center with two friends, another man and a young woman from Lewiston. 

The REST Center welcomes guests while open 24 hours as a warming shelter Friday. Volunteers staffed the center and made and served hot food. Area residents sent in boxes of warm clothing and blankets, and ordered food to be delivered. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

According to Peter Floyd, a volunteer at the Drop-in Center, he had talked to very few people who felt like they could tough it out outdoors. 

“Nobody is being fooled by this weather,” Floyd said. 

There was, however, a controversy earlier in the day when word began to go around on social media that two local brothers were going to sleep in a tent during the cold because they didn’t want to abandon their cats. 

“They’re like my children,” one of the brothers wrote. “I can’t just let them go.” 

Floyd and his crew heard about the controversy and stepped in at once. 


“We allow pets as long as they’re on a leash,” he said, “so we’re trying to get word out to them.” 

By 6 p.m., it was roughly minus 10 degrees in Lewiston. Just 15 minutes later, it had fallen to minus 13 and it was to continue dropping into the night. That was the actual temperature, not including the wind chill factor. With gusts expecting to shriek at up to 60 mph at times, apparent temperatures were forecast to drop to unimaginable lows: down to minus 50 degrees in some areas. 

Weather forecasters were adamant. This is no ordinary cold spell. 

“This brief cold snap is one for the ages,” wrote Mike Haggett, of Pine Tree Weather, “and something that will be recanted and referred to for many years.” 

Many of the warming centers that opened Friday are not allowed to provide their clientele with cots or anything conducive for sleeping. True, they would allow a tired man or woman to nod off in a chair if it happened, but local ordinances forbade them from providing any kind of bed for the night, so those seeking shelter were making do, with whatever they had with them, to get comfortable. 

At the REST Center in Lewiston, which continued to fill up into the evening, the TV was turned to a music channel, with rock and roll videos playing across the screen. On the screen were tan men and women, barely dressed, and romping on sunny beaches. The juxtaposition between that scene and the one at the shelter couldn’t have been greater.  

Popz glanced at the TV, but not for long. He didn’t plan to watch much of the programming during his stay. 

“I’ll just talk to friends and listen to music,” he said. “And I’ll spend some time collecting my thoughts.” 

Steve Wallace, CEO of YMCA Auburn-Lewiston in Auburn, greets people Friday as they board the bus at the Pleasant Street Drop-In Center in Auburn to go to The Warming Center on Valerie Circle. City ordinances did not allow The Warming Center to provide sleeping arrangements, but guests were free to bring their sleeping pads and blankets. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

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