SKOWHEGAN — Brian DeMaio and Josh Jordan stepped off the school bus on a recent afternoon in front of Halcyon House, a homeless shelter for teenagers.

They were home. For now.

Jordan, 17, a senior at the Marti Stevens Learning Center in Skowhegan, said he was abused as a child and needed a place to live, away from where he grew up in Old Orchard Beach.

DeMaio, 16, a Skowhegan high school junior, is a transgendered female who said she was not accepted at home and had to find another place to live, too.

“I’m technically homeless, and I want to have a place to live, and if I don’t, it could be harder for me,” DeMaio said. “I’m going through a hard time right now, and I’d really like to live somewhere. They are very supportive here. They’re someone you can come to for anything.”

Halcyon House, operated by Kennebec Behavioral Health, is a 10-bed shelter that provides emergency care for runaways and homeless youth ages 10-17. The shelter provides food, housing, clothing, personal care items, help with homework and transportation to school.

The shelter has 12 paid staff members, one intern and one outside volunteer.

Since being taken over by Kennebec Behavioral Health from Youth & Family Services a year ago, Halcyon House has been a temporary home to 46 homeless teenagers. There are four teen shelters in Maine, but only two — Halcyon House and New Beginnings in Lewiston — operate 24 hours a day.

Renovations on the former single-family farmhouse on Middle Road have been completed, but fundraising remains a key issue, said Donna Kelley, Kennebec Behavioral Health administrator of program development and housing.

Kelley said the shelter has a $400,000 annual operating budget, which includes the house, staff and programs. She said revenues include contracted funds from the state Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, the Department of Corrections, Maine State Housing, the United Way and others.

“We are a grassroots operation, so we certainly have to fundraise,” she said. “Not all of the contract funding and program revenue cover costs.”

Halcyon House Director Brandi Farrington said when the health organization took over the shelter in February 2012, the house did not meet building codes and the staff was not fully licensed. Those issues had to be fixed, she said.

“What happened was, we didn’t have enough staff to double-staff around the clock until just recently — we’re able to do that now,” Farrington said.

She said the United Way came up with $10,000 for new furniture and a security camera system as part of the renovations.

George Myers Jr., Kennebec Behavioral Health’s director of communications, said the organization’s representatives attend annual town meetings in central Maine to solicit donations for the programs, including Halcyon House.

“Community support for the community’s shelter has been a huge blessing for the kids this last year,” Myers said. “Mainers know all about tough times, and many have a sense about what these tenacious kids have experienced. They want these kids to know that their neighbors want them to feel safe and supported. That can be really empowering to those who need it most.”

Myers said between Thanksgiving and Christmas people dropped by the shelter with food, hats, coats, scarves and personal-care items.

Myers said the Stephen King Foundation has promised a grant for $10,000 toward operating costs this year. He said the shelter would like to purchase a van to take the kids on field trips in one vehicle.

“Kids come here for any number of reasons,” Farrington said. “It can be parent-child conflict. It can be that the families are displaced, and there aren’t enough families to take in all of those family members.”

Residents of Halcyon House often arrive in placement agreements with the foster care system. Others are young people the staff is trying to divert from the criminal justice system and kids coming from psychiatric hospitals or crisis units, Farrington said.

“Almost all of the youth that we see have a trauma history or some kind of mental health or substance abuse diagnosis,” she said. “Frequently we’ll see kids that have a high level of need and end up in the shelter because there really is no other place for them.”

Jordan said Halcyon House is important to him and to other young people who have no place to live.

“There’s a lot of kids out there today, like me, that don’t have any place where they can go,” he said. “If this wasn’t around, they’d be living in alleys and probably wouldn’t survive long. I’ve seen it take a toll on people. They end up in drugs and alcohol and then suicide, because they pretty much figure if there’s nowhere for me to go, no one cares for me.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]

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