FARMINGTON — Franklin County’s first homeless shelter will be opening Monday, 10 days past its previously predicted start date but just in time for winter, a shelter organizer said.

Western Maine Homeless Outreach overcame its last obstacles to opening last week after the shelter — located in the Living Waters Assembly of God Church on Wilton Road in Farmington — was declared in compliance with town building codes and the group hired night shift staff, said Chuck Ellis, homeless outreach board member and spokesman for the shelter.

“November marked the time of year when it’s colder out and snows, so the people involved in the shelter really wanted to get it open,” he said.

In order to comply with town code, the shelter will have 16 beds and not 20 to 24 beds as originally predicted. Ellis said if the shelter housed that many people, it would need to buy a sprinkler system that would cost more than the shelter could afford.

He said the shelter has enough money to get started and is close to fully funding its start-up budget of $29,000, after having raised about $4,800 toward a $5,000 matching grant. The $5,000 plus the $5,000 match from Atlantic Residential Resource, a small foundation that supports outreach programs for the homeless, would increase the amount of money they have to slightly less than $29,000.

The organization also will be using MaineCare funding to hire a case worker to help families find sustainable housing and address what led to their homelessness.

If people are in need of emergency shelter, Ellis said, they need to call 779-7609 first and be screened before being accepted into the shelter.

The shelter is for families. Singles still will need to be directed to other shelters.

Ellis and other organizers said one struggle they have had toward creating a homeless shelter outreach has been to improve the community’s awareness of it.

They said local people have a misconception that there is no homelessness in the area, when in reality its a growing problem with which county residents struggle. Organizers said they have been contacted by people who are living in their cars, in tents in the woods or behind McDonald’s, or are “surfing” on couches.

Western Maine Community Outreach said they hope long-term to set up a free-standing shelter. For now, the shelter is housed in a church basement.

The Rev. Steve Bracy, pastor of the Living Waters Assembly of God Church, said homeless people had few options before the shelter opened, and his church has been taking in people on a “low-key basis,” temporarily housing those who ask directly for assistance in a room originally intended for visiting missionaries.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

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