SKOWHEGAN — Smoke curls from the chimneys of two outdoor wood furnaces that heat the new 60-bed homeless shelter on McClellan Street and Trinity Evangelical Free Church next door.

Firewood is stacked on three sides of the buildings, forming a kind of encampment. Men bundled against the cold cut firewood, move snow, work on vehicles and keep the grounds clean.

On the second floor of the shelter, bunk beds — eight of them from the old Somerset Count jail — rise two by two, filling the dormitory.

It’s part hobo village, part boot camp, said the Rev. Richard Berry, who runs the place.

“It is what it is. It’s for the homeless and we rack ’em in the best we can and make ’em as comfortable as we can,” Berry said. “It’s the Skowhegan Miracle Homeless Shelter, 24-7, with three meals a day.”

An open house with guest speakers and guided tours of the new 3,800-square-foot shelter is set for 11 a.m. Saturday. The public is invited.

Berry and finance assistant Norton Webber said the $130,000 it took to build the shelter was all raised from private donations, with no state, local or federal funding. About half of the money was raised by members of Waterville-based Faith Evangelical Free Church, led by the Rev. Bill Cripe, they said.

Construction of the two story building was done mostly by the men at the shelter. Professionals did the electrical and fire safety work to meet building codes, Berry said.

Randy Gray, code enforcement officer for the town of Skowhegan, said all building, fire and safety codes have been approved for occupancy.

“We toured the building with the state fire marshal’s office and the fire department and I’m satisfied with what they’ve done,” Gray said Thursday. “They’re done a good job.”

Berry said he started offering shelter to homeless men in 2008, housing them inside the church until the numbers swelled and they needed more room. Work began on the shelter in April 2009. He said his fundraising took him all over the United States. The affiliated New Hope Shelter in Solon is used by women and children.

Local companies also contributed equipment and material for the project, including Mid-State Machine Products in Winslow, Skowhegan Equipment Rental, Maddingly Products of Anson, Zimba of Fairfield, which donated sheetrock, Joseph’s Flooring and Carroll Gould of Cornville who donated 35 to 40 cords of firewood.

He said Dr. Don Dubois of Skowhegan staffs the shelter’s free health clinic for checkups every Friday morning. Dubois also set up the examining rooms at the shelter. Students from Skowhegan Area High School built the stairs in the shelter.

There also is a commercial kitchen, dining area, staff rooms, shower rooms, a laundry and a multi-purpose room where Bible studies are conducted.

Berry stressed that there is a strict set of rules of conduct for men at the shelter. A two-page contract with the shelter must be signed before anyone is given a bed, he said.

“First of all there is zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol,” he said. “They have to be on the grounds at 9 p.m. Lights out is 11 p.m. They have to go to prayer seven days a week and they have to go to Bible study seven nights a week. And they all have to do chores.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

open house nugget:

An open house with guest speakers and guided tours of the new 3,800-square-foot shelter on McClellan Street is set for 11 a.m. Saturday.


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