December 13, 2013

Central Maine homeless shelters struggle to meet demand as winter weather hits

The Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter has been flooded with calls as forecasters predict subzero temperatures and snow on Sunday.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Staff Writer

Colder than normal temperatures are causing large numbers of people to seek housing in homeless shelters, which are struggling to meet the demand.

click image to enlarge

filled: Betty Palmer, executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville, stands in the day room that doubles as an over-flow sleeping area when the shelter is at or above capacity. Some people were already using the space Friday and Palmer expected the shelter to be over-flowing with the onset of a bitter cold snap.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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COLD SNAP: Mark “Dog” Wallace covers up as much skin as he can for a walk on Quarry Road in Waterville on Friday. Temperatures hovering at or below 0 degrees and a winter storm are expected to grip central Maine over the weekend.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additional Photos Below

And with the cold continuing, followed by a predicted snowstorm on Sunday, the situation is expected to get worse.

“We have fielded 18 calls already this morning and it’s only 10:30,” Betty Palmer, executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter said Friday.

Palmer said the 50-bed shelter housed 38 people on Thursday night and would probably be at or over capacity on Friday night.

In order to meet the demand, volunteers were rolling out floor mats and portable cribs.

“By midnight, we’ll have all 17 floor mats filled, plus,” she said.

Palmer said temporary living arrangements, like staying in a car, become untenable for some people when the temperatures get too low.

Others stick it out, she said, because they would rather suffer alone than live in a shelter with dozens of other people.

“We had a guy yesterday living in a shed,” she said. “We couldn’t convince him to come in. It’s hard to convince some people to come live with 50 or 60 people.”

In Skowhegan, the Trinity Men’s Shelter has seen its call volume double recently, to about four or five calls a day, according to Pastor Richard Berry of the Trinity Evangelical Free Church, which operates the shelter.

He said there is no mystery behind the increase in call volume. It’s the cold.

“Let’s put it this way. Would you want to be sleeping under a bridge tonight?” he said.

By contrast, the Rev. Steve Bracy, pastor of the Living Waters Assembly Church of God in Farmington said the church’s shelter, which just opened a month ago, still has most of its beds open.

He said two families are using four of the shelter’s 16 beds, and that the cold hasn’t generated any additional calls.

“We were a little surprised,” he said.

With forecast temperatures in central Maine plunging to as low as 10 below zero Saturday morning and a possible 10 inches or more of snow beginning to fall Saturday night, driving conditions around much of the state are expected to be treacherous, according to Tom Hawley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray.

The snow is expected to start in central Maine late Saturday night, at about midnight, and continue until about 3 p.m. Sunday. In all, about six to 12 inches is predicted for the Augusta area, eight to 10 inches are expected to fall in the Waterville area, and about five to nine inches in the Farmington area.

On Saturday morning, Hawley said to expect a low of five below in Waterville and 10 below in Farmington, with wind chills pushing the temperature to about 15 below in both places. Sunday’s temperatures aren’t expected to rise above the mid-teens.

He said the snow will be light and fluffy snow, which could create large snowdrifts.

“Driving conditions will be fairly bad over a large area of the state,” he said. “It will be a good nor’easter.”

Citing the weather, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland rescheduled the dedication of the new St. Faustina Church in Jackman to Saturday at 4 p.m., well before the snow is expected to hit.

Bishop Richard Malone, of the Diocese of Portland, canceled his scheduled Sunday appearance at the dedication mass, delegating his duties to Pastor Kevin Martin of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Jackman.

Gov. Paul LePage declared a state of emergency in a proclamation allowing Maine’s fuel delivery trucks to drive additional hours to meet the anticipated increased heating fuel demands of the state’s residents for the next two weeks.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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overflow: Brian Gillespie, 20, reads from his floor mat bed in the over-flow area at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter on Friday. Gillespie has been at the shelter for about 30 days and will be sharing the over-flow space with an increased population due in part to the bitter cold temperatures.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans


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