WATERVILLE — City councilors on Wednesday narrowly approved a request to explore the legality of spending $250,000 from a special charitable trust to build a women and children’s wing at a future homeless shelter.

The 4-3 vote followed a lengthy discussion about whether the money from the William T. Haines Charitable Trust should be used solely for the homeless shelter or if there are other social service agencies that may also qualify for the money.

The city received $100,000 from Haines’ will in 1920, the income from which is to be used specifically for destitute women and children who do not receive city assistance but still need help.

City Manager Michael Roy proposed $250,000 of the trust, which has since grown to $550,000, be used for a women and children’s wing for the future 40-bed Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, scheduled for construction at Colby circle in the coming months.

He said he felt the plan follows the intent of Haines’ will. Roy said he spoke with a special committee that oversees the trust to ask if members had a problem with giving $250,000 to the shelter wing.

“They said, ‘No, we think it’s a good idea,'” he said.

The trust allows for $1,500 to be spent per month. Roy said more than that is used some months, less other months. Last year, $5,393 was spent, but the trust earned $7,027.

Haines was Maine governor from 1913 to 1915. City Council Chairman Charles Stubbert Jr., D-Ward 1, said the Haines’ gift sat untouched for many years, and if it had been invested wisely in the beginning, could now total millions of dollars.

Shelter officials have raised $1.9 million of the $2.7 million they say is needed to start construction and cut overcrowding at their current 18-bed shelter. During the winter, they open an overflow shelter in the basement of the First Baptist Church.

The question councilors were faced with Wednesday night was whether to ask the probate court if it is legal to use $250,000 for the new shelter wing.

City Solicitor William Lee said there’s a fairly good chance the state Attorney General’s Office would be able to resolve the question, without the city’s having to go to the court.

But the council’s newest councilors — George Myers Jr., D-Ward 2, Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, and Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, said they wanted more information about the issue and to explore whether other social service agencies also would qualify for the money.

Lee reminded them that the resolution the council faced Wednesday was very specific, asking if they wanted the court to make a decision about using the money for the homeless shelter wing.

Mayor Dana Sennett supported the idea of spending the funds for the shelter wing.

“There is such a need in this community for housing for homeless people and mental health counseling — you see it everywhere on the streets,” he said.

But Mathias said that while she thinks the homeless shelter is a wonderful facility, the city was being quick to give $250,000. She wanted to know if officials had considered other uses for the money. Thomas agreed, saying Lee should find out if the funds could be used in other places.

Myers asked if the council could talk to other agencies in town, to find out what their needs are.

“I think there’s more that can be done than giving money,” he said.

Mathias said she wanted to know more about the Haines Trust: “I think we just need to look at all needs that women and children have. How can we best be meeting the intent of the charity?”

Betty Palmer, executive director of Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, emphasized that the shelter does not just house people; it helps them find jobs, permanent housing and connect them with agencies that provide mental health counseling and other services.

The Haines money would be put to good use, she said.

“Even though it gets headed under ‘adopting a wing,’ it’s changing a life,” Palmer said.

Kevin Joseph, chairman of the board of directors for the shelter, said the physical shelter is a critical first component in helping to turn lives around.

“The people need a place to stay before they can even go to get help from those agencies,” he said.

He challenged councilors to visit the shelter, which is full, he said.

“We turn away people very single day,” he said.

Stubbert, Myers, Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, and Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, voted to have Lee pursue an answer with the Attorney General’s Office or probate court; Thomas, Mathias and Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, voted against doing so.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]


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