WATERVILLE — Homeless people and those who must conserve fuel dollars by turning down their heat will soon have a warm and inviting place to spend their days.

A warming center will open Sunday at 9 Water St. in the city’s South End and will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.

Organized and funded by area organizations and individuals, the center is scheduled to stay open until March 31.

Tina Chapman, president and chief professional officer of the United Way of Mid-Maine Inc., helped develop the center.

“This provides a consistent place that’s available the same time every day, always there, welcoming, for anybody who needs a warm place to be,” Chapman said Thursday. “It’s not just for the homeless. Some people are conserving heat in their own homes during the day. A lot of people turn their heat down pretty significantly during the day to stretch fuel dollars. This gives them a place where they can find fellowship and company.”

United Way’s Community Impact Team put up $3,000 in seed money for the effort, she said. Inland Hospital, MaineGeneral Health, the city and Waterville Rotary Club pitched in funds, as did Kennebec Valley Community Action Program’s social services staff.

“I think we have about two-thirds of the money needed for 2 1/2 months,” Chapman said. “It will probably cost less than $15,000 for staff and insurance, rent, heat, utilities, and we will probably bring a cell phone for staff.”

The center is possible through the efforts of United Way, Waterville Area Homeless Action Group, Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, Waterville Rotary Club, and the community group, REM. The faith community, City Councilor Rosemary Winslow, former Councilor Thomas Longstaff (now a state representative) and former Mayor Dana Sennett also worked on the project, according to Chapman. Janice Kassman, chairman of the United Way Board of Directors, who also is special assistant to the president for external affairs at Colby College, played a significant role in making sure the center came to fruition, she said.

The building, a former hardware store and cafe, is owned by Randy Cook, who is renting out the building for the center, Chapman said.

It will have several tables and chairs, a separate area for children, and donated furniture. Fortin’s TV & Appliance is loaning the center a large-screen television for the effort and Cook is donating the cable, according to Chapman.

“Everything is coming together very nicely,” she said.

Chapman said this is a pilot project that will continue next year if all goes well and adequate need is established.

“The utilization of the center is going to set the stage for what we do next year and if we do it next year,” she said.

People of all ages are welcome, but anyone under 10 must be accompanied by a parent or someone older than 14, she said.

Former Mayor Sennett said the effort to open a warming center started last year as homeless advocates worked to open an overflow homeless shelter in the basement of the First Congregational Church at the corner of Park and Elm streets.

Homeless people have been spending their days wherever they can find warmth, such as in libraries, retail stores and laundromats, Sennett said.

“I think what’s fortunate this year is that we’ve found an adequate location and put all the pieces together to open it up,” he said. “There’s definitely a need for it. Too often, people don’t feel they have a place to go during the day.”

Chapman said that while food will not be served in the center, snacks, coffee and other beverages will be offered. Anyone wanting to donate non-perishable snacks, preferably packaged, may bring them to the United Way office at 105 Kennedy Memorial Drive, she said.

Anyone wanting to donate money to the effort may send checks to United Way of Mid-Maine, Inc. and write “warming center” on the memo line. The address is P.O. Box 91, Waterville, ME 04901. Donations are tax-deductible.

Volunteers also are needed. Those interested may call Chapman at 873-0686.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

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