WATERVILLE — Jamie Grey dreams of having her own apartment where she can cook, clean and care for her baby girl, due next month.

“I would love to be waking up in the middle of the night to my baby in her crib and feeding her in my own apartment and preparing to go to college,” she said.

But for now, the 27-year-old woman sleeps in Waterville’s overflow homeless shelter in the First Baptist Church basement.

She comes in at 6 every night, sleeps in a single bed in a large room with a dozen or so other women and has to be out by 7:45 the next morning.

During the day, she walks to the soup kitchen at Sacred Heart Church or Notre Dame Church for lunch; sometimes she goes to the evening sandwich program at the Universalist Unitarian Church.

“I go to the warming center (on Water Street),” she said. “I utilize the public library a lot. I have case management and I get help connecting to services.”

She and her boyfriend had been living in a trailer in Winslow, but struggled to pay rent after he lost his job and had no luck finding a new one, she said. They eventually had to leave and found themselves on the street.

Now he sleeps in the men’s section of the church basement at the corner of Elm and Park streets and looks every day for work, she said.

Like the other 33 people, including four pregnant women, staying at the shelter, the couple has fallen through the cracks. They are among a growing number of people in the area who are finding themselves without a home, without a job and hungry.

They come to the shelter looking for a place to sleep as well as help getting housing and health care and assistance finding a job.

But resources to help operate the overflow shelter are limited, according to Betty Palmer, executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, which has 18 beds and sends its overflow to the temporary winter shelter in the church basement.

“We had six families call that we can’t get in,” Palmer said at the overflow shelter Monday night. “I called (other shelters). There’s no room for families anywhere.”

Money, items, volunteers needed

While a new homeless shelter is expected to be built this year on Colby Circle, which will eliminate the need for the basement shelter, right now the overflow area is struggling.

Palmer said part of the problem is that Maine State Housing no longer has subsidies for overflow shelters.

“Everything we do here at the overflow, we do with the support of the community,” she said. “We need to pay the oil and electricity, we need to pay case management staff so we’re not just warehousing people, but helping them get services, get them registered into the employment program at the library.”

The cost to run the overflow shelter is about $25,000 a winter, she said.

In addition to cash donations, the overflow shelter also needs volunteers who can help with chores such as laundry because bedding gets changed once a week, or more often if someone leaves.

An average stay at the overflow shelter is 45-60 days.

“It’s a long time,” Palmer said. “Sometimes it’ll take 90 days to secure housing for someone.”

A third of the people staying at the shelter have jobs — at department stores, fast food restaurants, local convenience stores or places where they do phone work, she said. They end up in the shelter for various reasons including divorce, mental health problems, domestic violence, loss of permanent or seasonal jobs, or having to leave a seasonal shelter that is too cold.

“There is a young couple here who were living in a pop-up camper with a propane heater,” Palmer said.

Shelter staff also are helping re-establish services for a couple of veterans, she said.

Shelter offers hope

Michael Staples has been living at the overflow shelter since Nov. 11 when he was evicted from his Waterville apartment. His unemployment ended and he could no longer pay rent.

“I sold what I could of what I owned but it only prolonged the inevitable,” said Staples, 57.

He was sitting on a couch in the men’s section of the overflow shelter where he and others sleep on mattresses on home-built wooden beds.

A Maine native, Staples said he ran a chain of video stores in Massachusetts before they closed and he lost his job.

He recently found a part-time job cleaning a business and secured an apartment near his work and will move into it as soon as he receives a housing voucher, he said. Then, he expects his hours cleaning will increase.

“I never expected to be 57 and homeless,” he said. “It’s a learning experience, that’s for sure. I’ll fight like heck once I get into the apartment, to keep it. If it wasn’t for this place, I’d probably be dead.”

He said Palmer and the shelter’s case manager have helped him tremendously in his effort to get back on his feet.

“This place is a godsend and the people that work here — I can’t give enough praise to them. They’re the best.”

Corey Conway, 41, has been at the shelter 25 days, working to find housing for him and his 4-year-old daughter.

He had been in jail 18 months after being sentenced for drug trafficking, and now is putting his life back together. The shelter staff have worked hard to help him, but he said the emphasis is on doing it yourself.

“While you’re here, you’re supposed to actively seek work,” he said. “I’ve been putting in applications, at the Dollar Tree and other places. I’m into fitness so I’ve gone to two different fitness places.”

He has found camaraderie at the shelter, where the people support each other, he said:

“It’s home. You get to know everybody. All in all, you get along. I think we all pretty much try to keep each other in line. If one fails, we all fail.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]


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