December 16, 2013

Augusta warming center opens its doors for the winter

The Augusta Community Warming Center saw more than a dozen visitors in its first day of the season. The center will be open through March.

By Paul Koenig
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The temperature had barely cracked double digits Monday morning when the city’s warming center opened its doors for the season.

click image to enlarge

SHELTER FROM THE COLD: Volunteers shovel out the warming center on Front Street in Augusta, which opened Monday.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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SHELTER: Adrien Patenaude, 23, texts for a ride to the homeless shelter in Waterville while taking a break from the elements Monday at the warming center on Front Street in Augusta. The Center opened for the winter and Patenaude, who is homeless, spent much of the day there while searching for a bed.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

The new director, Alexander Blackstone, and a few volunteers, set up a large coffee maker and a heater for tea on a particle board folding table in one of the largest rooms.

The Augusta Community Warming Center, on Front Street along the Kennebec River, provides a place for individuals and families to congregate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week, so they can avoid the cold during the winter. It will stay open through March.

Many visitors during the week and on Saturdays take advantage of the Bread of Life Ministries Soup Kitchen a short walk away. On Sundays, the center provides meals from organizations, churches and companies.

Adrien Patenaude, 23, sat in the entry room of the center Monday afternoon with a cup of coffee in his hands. He said he’s been homeless for 21 months and most recently stayed with a friend in Augusta.

Patenaude, originally from the Skowhegan area, said he needed a ride to Waterville by Tuesday morning to make an appointment at the Department of Health & Human Services to visit his son,who’s about 2 years old and who he said is in state custody.

Patenaude’s been in and out of jail and prison for probation violations and burglary and theft charges, most recently for violating probation by smoking marijuana, he said.

“My address has been a tent for, I don’t know, six or nine months,” Patenaude said, with his backpack and a plastic grocery bag tied to its handle at his feet.

His goal is to find a permanent address so he can regain custody of his son. Right now, he’s trying to get in the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville, but he said there haven’t been any beds available to him.

Last week the shelter, along with others in the area, reported significant increases in demand because of the falling temperatures. Betty Palmer, executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, told the Morning Sentinel on Friday that she expected the 50-bed shelter to be at or over capacity that night. The Bread of Life Ministries Homeless Shelter in Augusta is routinely at capacity as well.

About a dozen visitors, including volunteers who stay there all day, were at the warming center early afternoon on Monday.

Some people will spend the day at the warming center to make their heating fuel last longer, while others come for the social aspect, Blackstone said. Some, like Patenaude, are homeless, and the center provides an alternative to being outside in the cold.

The center, in its fifth year, is primarily funded by the United Way of Kennebec Valley, but other organizations, as well as churches, businesses and the city of Augusta, support it through various kinds of donations.

It costs a little more than $15,000 each year to pay for rent and a staffer for seven days a week, according to Rob Gordon, executive director of the United Way of Kennebec Valley. Most of the cost is covered by revenue from electronic waste drop-off events held by the organization, as well as funding from MaineGeneral Health and donors, he said. It’s mostly administered by the Green Street United Methodist Church in Augusta.

The organization is still raising money for this year, Gordon said.

“We’re not worried about not being able to fund it, but we know we’ve got to raise a little more to keep it open through March,” he said.

The last couple of years people have brought up the idea of keeping it open longer or year round, but Gordon said it’s unlikely his organization would be the one to expand it.

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