AUGUSTA — The Augusta Community Warming Center opens for the season Friday to provide shelter and socializing in a familiar spot, though it’s for sale.

Officials of the daytime warming center where every winter hundreds of local residents gather to escape from the cold, connect with services, or just have coffee with friends had hoped to be in a new home by now because, among other reasons, its current site — the St. Mark’s Parish Hall — is for sale.

But despite looking at nine potential new locations in Augusta over the last several months, leaders of Bridging the Gap, the parent organization of the warming center, and Addie’s Attic clothing bank and Everyday Basics Essentials Pantry have been unable to find a new, long-term home for those services.

While they continue to look for a new location, with the temperature falling and the need for people to have a warm place to spend the day remaining, the group’s focus is now on opening the shelter and continuing to operate the clothing and essential items pantry at the site it has called home in recent years, the lower level of the St. Mark’s Parish Hall, at 9 Pleasant Street.

“We’re opening for the season and we’ll be here until further notice,” said Sarah Miller, project director of Bridging the Gap, a program of Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church that formed this year and united the warming shelter, the clothing bank and the essentials pantry into a single organization. “We looked at nine different places and none of them came to fruition, so we had a decision to make. We decided to open the doors and keep looking.”

Miller estimated the warming center, the clothing bank and the essentials pantry together served about 3,500 people over the last year.

The Augusta Community Warming Center will be open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., from Dec. 1 to March 31, 2018.

Last winter the warming center had 3,800 sign-ins. Its visitors sign in each time they go there.

Visitors are greeted by a volunteer or a staff member as they arrive. What they do after that is up to them.

Santa Havener, Bridging the Gap program and operations manager, said if guests just want to sit, relax, have some coffee or snacks and talk with other guests, they are free to do that and nothing more. However, guests also will have opportunities to volunteer if they wish. Many of them volunteer right in the same building, sorting and organizing clothes for Addie’s Attic. Last year guests put in 3,700 hours of volunteering.

There is a children’s play area, as well as a separate child-free area for adults, and the general area where both adults and children are welcome.

People can play games, watch DVDs on a television set, or just spend time chatting with others.

“It’s a place for healthy, friendly conversations, where there are volunteer opportunities, connections to resources and just a warm, friendly environment to get to know each other,” said Havener, who is in her second season of working at the warming center.

If visitors need services, such as mental health help, literacy assistance, employment counseling, or other assistance, workers and volunteers will try to connect them to resources in the community, some of which send representatives to the warming center.

“We consider ourselves to be a low-barrier, safe place to be and, at the same time, to provide opportunities for people to connect to resources,” Miller said.

The St. Mark’s Episcopal Church property, where Bridging the Gap’s services are located, was put up for sale by the former church in 2016. Officials said maintaining the aging facility was too costly.

St. Mark’s parishioners have joined with the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church’s congregation to form a new church, Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal church, which has services at 209 Eastern Ave.

City officials have said the social services provided by the warming center, the clothing bank and the essentials pantry cannot continue to be provided long-term at the St. Mark’s site because city zoning rules don’t allow those services in that zone.

Miller said Bridging the Gap is under no formal order from the city to move and said the group tried its best to relocate but hasn’t been able to find a suitable, attainable site.

Liz Burgess, vice president of Emmanuel’s congregation council and a co-coordinator of the essentials pantry, said the ideal new location for Bridging the Gap’s combined services would have more than 4,000 square feet, would be accessible to people with disabilities, and would be in the central part of the city within walking distance of other services such as the Bread of Life soup kitchen.

Bridging the Gap and the warming center’s services are funded by numerous sources, including multiple local church congregations, income from an endowment of about $600,000 made up of the proceeds of the sale of St. Mark’s Home, individuals, businesses, and funded by the United Way of Kennebec Valley as a partner agency.

The United Way founded the Augusta Community Warming Center and will continue to help fund it, but its officials approached Emmanuel church leaders to ask them to take responsibility for it. Rob Gordon, executive director of the regional United Way, said that while the warming center’s value to the community is clear, the United Way’s mission is not to be a direct service provider, but instead to raise money for other organizations that help the area’s needy.

Bridging the Gap has a website and a Facebook page, and it may be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 248-1782.

T. Havener said the warming shelter is opening two weeks earlier than it has in the past because the need is there, and Burgess said the early opening is occurring because it’s cold.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj