AUGUSTA — Just after Eliza Quill took a job running Maine’s only shelter for homeless veterans, she asked some of them if there was anything more that they wanted.

At the top of the list, she said, was “a real flagpole” to replace a flag stick hanging on the stairs in front of the Bread of Life Ministries’ veterans shelter in Augusta. Glenn Baldwin, a Coast Guard veteran who lives there now, said keeping it that way “would be like an architect designing a house and not putting a bathroom in it.”

“How do you have a veterans’ shelter without a flagpole?” he asked.

But on Tuesday, that changed. Baldwin and other homeless veterans raised flags on two new flagpoles at a Veterans Day ceremony attended by Maine first lady Ann LePage and other veterans advocates. Other events in the area Tuesday included a six-mile walk from Augusta’s Capitol Park to VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus led by Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty and a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark renovations at an American Legion hall in Litchfield.

At the homeless shelter, many of the building supplies were donated by businesses with cash donations helping to buy the poles which now fly the U.S. and Maine flags, as well as others for prisoners of war, soldiers missing in action and the military’s service branches. Shelter residents, including Baldwin, helped find donors and laid paving stones around the flagpoles’ bases.

“They’re an amazing bunch of men,” said Quill, the veterans case manager at Bread of Life, a nonprofit group that operates a soup kitchen and shelters serving the Augusta area. “That’s for sure.”

The group’s 12-bed veterans’ shelter, which is in its fourth year, is Maine’s only veteran-specific shelter. It’s paid for through a contract with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which selects the homeless veterans who live at the shelter while getting health services at the federal veterans hospital at Togus, five miles from the Hospital Street shelter.

Reducing homelessness among veterans has been a priority of the federal government. From 2010 to 2014, it was reduced nearly 33 percent, according to the VA, which said it spent $6.8 billion in the 2014 budget year on health care and specialized services for homeless veterans. Still, there were nearly 50,000 homeless veterans nationwide at one point in time in early 2014, according to federal data.

The Augusta shelter is a stop-over for homeless veterans, who typically stay for three months while receiving case management, getting settled into the community and looking for jobs before usually moving to their own housing with help from the VA.

“Our job is to get them stabilized and ready to move into that environment,” said Ron Welsh, director of operations at Bread of Life, adding that more than 100 veterans have passed through the shelter, with only a few having to leave the shelter to go back to Togus for more services.

Baldwin, a Portland native, got out of the Coast Guard in the 1970s en route to a career as a boatbuilder in Maine’s midcoast region. He said his fortunes changed when he was fired from his job in 2006 after an injury, leading to an extended period of homelessness during which he lived in a truck.

“There was a spell when I had 42 cents to my name and I didn’t see another living soul for 60 days,” he said. “Didn’t speak to anybody, didn’t email, didn’t text, didn’t have a phone.”

Eventually, Baldwin went to Togus for services, and that’s how he got to the Bread of Life shelter in August. Among its residents, he headed up the effort to put up the flagpoles by recruiting donors and putting in labor. But Baldwin said most residents have more pressing needs, notably transportation back and forth between Togus and potential jobs.

His next project? Getting a van that can shuttle the shelter’s veterans around the area.

“Some people self-medicate with alcohol; some people self-medicate with drugs,” Baldwin said. “I self-medicate with projects.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


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