WATERVILLE — A dream come true.
That was the sentiment Monday morning during the ceremonial grand opening of the new Mid Maine Homeless Shelter on Colby Circle. It took eight years of planning and four years of intense fund raising, but the day was finally here, speakers told a large gathering outside the shelter.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a former Waterville mayor and a longtime member and former chairman of the shelter board of directors, said the dream was dreamed by hundreds of people over the years.
“There was no money for this building and we got together and started little programs to start building a capital campaign and put some money away,” LePage said of the early days of establishing a new shelter. “This was a vision. This is very important for a lot of people that are down and out that need a little bit of a boost.
“It’s not just about providing them with shelter and food, it’s a new beginning. It’s about helping people get back on their feet and the most important, proud thing about it is that it’s not done by government.”
In her welcome to the assembly Monday under a cloudless, blue sky, Susan Reisert, vice chairwoman of the Rebuilding Lives Campaign, said the Waterville community is reaching out to people in need, offering dignity, respect and hope for everyone.
Board chairman Kevin Joseph read remarks from City Manager Michael Roy, who was out of town. Joseph also introduced campaign chairman Doug Kutchin, founder of the Sheridan Corp., which built the shelter.
Roy said the new shelter is one of several striking examples of Waterville’s renaissance. Kutchin added that the need for a shelter for men, women and families has grown in the 22 years since the first homeless shelter was opened in Waterville.
“We had a dream,” Kutchin said. “This is the dream right here.”
Shelter Executive Director Betty Palmer said the shelter will be open before the end of the week
“We are moving out of the old place — and it’s sold,” she said.
The new shelter has 40 adult beds, an assortment of cribs and toddler beds and 12 emergency mats for the floor.
“We have people calling every day, sometimes 30 people a day,” Palmer said.
The current shelter on Ticonic Street, which opened in 1990, houses only six adults, many of whom had to leave during the day because of crowding.
“For the last two years we’ve kept families in during the day with small children, but now we’ll keep everybody in during the day — but not just to watch TV and drink coffee,” she said. “They’ll have to be working on a program; whether it’s looking for work, using a computer to do a resume, looking for an apartment or attending one of the program sessions, so if you’re in for programming, you’re in for the day.”
Palmer said men, women and families all will be accepted at the shelter, but with secure, separate entrances for men and women at the front of the building.
“We have a women and families’ wing and a men’s wings,” she said. “We also have an increase of single dads, so we have one room that’s a little more private for single dads with children.”
Ten bedrooms, all dormitory style, are joined in the middle by a large multi-purpose room for dining, dancing and other group activities.
There is a smaller family room, a kitchen, shelter offices and a program room for healing arts, parenting classes alcohol and drug recovery meetings, Bible study and peer group studies, Palmer said.
The cost of the two-story building — 8,000 square feet on the ground floor and 8,000 square feet to be finished upstairs — so far has come to $2.7 million.
“We’re an interfaith shelter connected to Maine State Housing — we’re a community shelter, not a city shelter — a private non-profit,” Palmer said.
Tony Clements, 37, who moved to Waterville from Chesterville a year ago, said medical issues and the absence of family in central Maine forced him to find help getting a place to live. He said the homeless shelter took him in in March and got him back on his feet.
“This is a beautiful place — it’s remarkable,” Clements said of the new shelter. “Guests that come here will enjoy their stay here and the staff will help them maintain a life and do what they’ve done with me, help me out and move on and get an apartment and it’s like starting life all over again.”
Doug Harlow — 612-2367