Temporary shelter for homeless set to move from Waterville to Augusta hotel

AUGUSTA — About 50 people, most of them families with children, will move from a temporary homeless shelter at a Waterville hotel to a new temporary shelter at an Augusta hotel next week.

The hotel will house them for up to two months and also expand the capacity of shelter space available for unhoused people in the region for much of the remaining cold winter months.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency program funding the shelter space is expiring at the end of March and it has been a struggle to find more- permanent housing for the families and others using the temporary shelter due to a lack of affordable housing, or much of any available housing, in the central Maine area.

For the next two months staff of the Waterville-based Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter will oversee unhoused people, who have been living at a Waterville hotel so far most of this winter, at an Augusta hotel where Maine State Housing Authority has a new contract to reserve about 30 rooms for shelter clients in need of a place to stay. The package includes a contract with the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter to provide services, and around the clock, seven-day-a-week staffing at the site.

Katie Spencer White, chief executive officer of Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, said the move is in progress and she hopes it will be completed early next week. The moves comes just as a two-year-old agreement was set to expire on Monday that the shelter and the housing authority had with a Waterville hotel for about the same number of rooms there for unhoused clients. The new arrangement gives shelter officials and those clients 59 more days to find housing for them. And, in the meantime, it provides additional shelter space that could be used, if needed, by unhoused people in Augusta.

White to name the hotels involved, to protect the confidentiality of people receiving the declined temporary housing at them.

The hotel shelter residents are made up of unhoused shelter clients for whom the congregate setting of the Waterville shelter’s Colby Street shelter was problematic, most of them families with children, and some of them elderly or with underlying health conditions that, particularly in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, made it risky for them to be in close proximity to others in a congregation shelter.

Augusta city Manager Susan Robertson said city staff believe between the existing Bread of Life shelter on Hospital Street jn Augusta and the temporary housing to be overseen by Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, that Augusta should have enough homeless shelter capacity for what has been an increasing number of homeless people in the city, at least temporarily, through the next two winter months, for those who want the help.

She said while the city won’t be directly involved in running or funding the shelter, Director of City Services Earl Kingsbury and Director of Health and Welfare Nichole Mullens worked with Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter and Maine Housing Authority officials to help with the transition from the Waterville to Augusta hotels. She said having the additional shelter capacity in Augusta could be very beneficial as the city looks to help homeless residents get off the streets.

White said the Augusta hotel is expected to have available capacity for homeless people who can’t stay in a congregate shelter setting. She said homeless people in need of housing in Augusta can seek assistance through the Bread of Life or through the city’s general assistance office.

Many of the hotel residents moving from Waterville to Augusta are from the Augusta area, White said, and moved to Waterville only after they lost the hotel rooms they’d been staying. They had been placed there by the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, when two Augusta hotels stopped offering long-term stays to them last October.

White said the demand for housing services is huge across the state. But their goal is to empty the new hotel shelter in Augusta, by finding clients housed there more-permanent housing in apartments or houses, as soon as possible. Specifically, before the 59 days the hotel rooms are reserved for are gone.

“Hopefully, 59 extra days will help,” White said. “Our goal is to get as many people as possible housed, because when this ends, there may not be a place to shelter them. A lot of the challenge right now is the affordable housing crisis. A lot of these folks have been looking (for longer term housing) for a long time. The vast majority are ready to go. They have rental assistance in place. A lot of them are employed. It’s just a matter of finding the apartments.”

She said the average length of stay at Mid-Maine’s shelters — which, at about 40 days, was among the shortest in the state — has gotten longer and longer since the pandemic and the increasing lack of affordable housing as rental and home sale prices have skyrocketed. She hopes to see an uptick in the number of available apartments within the next two months.

In 2021 the shelter served 425 individuals including 53 at its winter warming shelter, and 62 clients who were facing homelessness but were able to retain housing or find new housing through its diversion program. The agency has a goal of tripling the number of people diverted from homelessness in 2022.

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