SKOWHEGAN — The Trinity Evangelical Free Church men’s homeless shelter is expanding to include living space for families.
The Rev. Richard Berry, church pastor and head of the shelter on McClellan Street in Skowhegan, said the church is in the process of buying a farmhouse and barn on three-quarters of an acre that abuts the church property on West Front Street. Once the purchase and sale agreement is signed with the bank, Berry said the space will be transformed into a shelter for families.
“People are bringing families to me and one of the problems is that dad gets sent to a men’s shelter, mom and the kids get sent to a women’s shelter — it’s hard to find a place that will take in the family unit and keep it together,” Berry said. “It kills the heart to think about that. We want to keep the family unit as a family unit; dad and mom will be together with the kids over here.”
Berry said social service agencies, including the state Department of Health and Human Services, are referring families to his church, but because the shelter is just for men, he has no place for them to stay.
The two-story farm house has four bedrooms upstairs and large rooms on the main floor. The barn is large and will be converted to accommodate family living, Berry said. He said the large yard will be fenced off as a play area for children.
Berry said the church is paying about $50,000 for the property, which fell into bank foreclosure. All of the money comes from donations, he said.
Berry said the shelter, which opened with 45 beds in 2008 expanded two years ago and now accommodates 60 men. He said the shelter is at capacity.
Rebecca Philpot, director of the New Hope Women’s Shelter in Solon, said there are nine women at the shelter. The capacity there is for 12 women and their children. A new shelter is under construction and will house 32 women and their children once it opens in 2014.
She said she welcomes a family shelter in Skowhegan because she has had to turn away families with older boys or fathers in the group.
“It’s exciting to us to have a family shelter in this area,” Philpot said. “One opened in Farmington, but it’s exciting to have one closer.”
A survey of Maine’s homeless population released in May by the Maine State Housing Authority counted nearly 1,200 people who didn’t have a place to live one night in January.
The housing authority reported 1,175 individuals were living in emergency shelters, in cars and tents, and on the street in the annual Point in Time Survey on Jan. 30.
Of that total, 480 were in Portland and 695 were in the rest of the state. The number included 297 families and 169 children.
The tally represents an 8 percent increase over the 2012 survey, when 1,050 homeless people were counted.
The Point in Time Survey provided a snapshot of Maine’s homeless population on one particular night. The housing authority says 7,745 different people sought refuge last year in homeless shelters across the state, according to the report.
Homelessness in Maine is concentrated in four counties: Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec and Penobscot, which accounted for 76 percent of Maine’s homeless population, according to the survey.
Cindy Namer, director of the homeless initiative at the housing authority, said there is no data from the survey for Somerset County. She said the shelters and municipalities in Somerset County do not participate in the survey, so there are no homeless numbers to report.