SKOWHEGAN — Police armed with arrest warrants for four men arrested three of them at the Trinity men’s homeless shelter Wednesday morning.

Police Chief Ted Blais and three other police officers arrived at the shelter on McClellan Street just after 10:40 a.m. with warrants for the men, who were wanted on a variety of charges.

The shelter provides the department with a list of residents every week, and police check the names to see if there are any outstanding warrants.

While there are usually one or two a month, Wednesday’s high number highlights Blais’ concerns about the shelter being a magnet for crime. The shelter has beds for 60 and primarily serves men. Currently 57 men are at the shelter, and women and children are staying at the Trinity Evangelical Free Church next door.

The Rev. Richard Berry, the shelter’s founder, said Wednesday that the shelter is a needed resource and helps reduce crime by keeping homeless men off the streets.

Arrested Wednesday was Brandon Lee Caldara, 33, who gave an address of 12 McClellan St. — the shelter’s address. Caldara had outstanding warrants in his name for unpaid fines and fees, for theft, violating conditions of release and operating while his license was revoked or suspended, with a prior conviction.

Also arrested was Anthony Deshawn Pugh, 24, of Augusta and Waterville. He had a warrant for failure to appear in court on a theft of services charge. Shawn Patrick Davis, 42, of Auburn, was arrested on warrants for unpaid fines and fees, for failure to report to jail, failure to appear on two counts of acquiring drugs by deception, operating after suspension, criminal trespass and on an indictment for forgery.

Blais has been critical of the shelter because of complaints lodged by neighbors and businesses and because of an increase in criminal activity in Skowhegan, especially motor vehicle burglaries. He said there were 90 car burglaries in town in 2014 compared to about 20 each in neighboring Fairfield and Madison.

“It brings more crime to the area,” Blais said.

Blais said police calls to the shelter or calls relating to the shelter amount to 25 percent of police hours in Skowhegan.

Blais and Berry, who founded the shelter in January 2012, said the shelter gives a list of the names of occupants to the police department every week. This week an officer discovered there were arrest warrants out for four of the men at the shelter.

“We occasionally find one or two every warrant about three months or so,” Blais said.

Berry said he and his staff comply with everything that is required of them, whether the issue concerns the town’s Code Enforcement Officer, the state fire marshal or the Skowhegan Police Department.

He said if anything, the shelter is a deterrent to crime, not a contributor.

“I don’t think we are raising the crime rate in Skowhegan,” Berry said.

Berry said the residents are informed that the police have their names and know where they’re staying.

“We tell the guys ‘We’re gonna run you through the PD,’ and it makes it pretty easy for them,” he said. “What’s bringing the crime rate up is the bad economy. People are poor and they’re breaking the law. It’s not the shelter doing it. That’s ridiculous.”

Berry said if a shelter anywhere is taking in homeless people, it is also taking in people who are desperate and who get into trouble. Most people in a shelter are there because they have lost their homes or lost their jobs, he said.

“They are not criminals,” Berry said. “Very few of them that go through here are criminals. Our guys aren’t out wandering the streets at night. We do the opposite — I think we’re more of a deterrent to local crime, not a cause of it.”

He said the shelter has zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol. The men have to be on the grounds at 9 p.m. for lights out at 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.

Blais, citing statistics from the Maine Department of Public Safety, said people come to Skowhegan because of the shelter.

According to the state police Uniform Crime Reporting Unit, the crime rate in 2010 was 42.39 for every 1,000 people in Skowhegan. In 2012, the year the shelter opened in January, that number jumped to 66.57. In 2013, the most recent reporting year, the number was 60.68. According to the 2010 Census, Skowhegan’s population was 8,598, Fairfield’s 6,735 and Madison’s 4,855.

Using charts he has shown to selectmen recently for budget planning purposes, Blais compared crime in 2014 in Skowhegan to Madison and Fairfield numbers. Thefts, for example, in Skowhegan numbered more than 350 with fewer than 100 in Madison and fewer than 200 in Fairfield and about 260 in the rest of Somerset County.

In another category, which Blais said is a good indicator of what he called “the shelter effect,” are suspicious activity incidents. He said if a man goes home to the shelter and appears to be intoxicated or high on drugs, he is turned away to wander the streets of Skowhegan for the rest of the night.

There were nearly 500 reports of suspicious activity in Skowhegan in 2014 compared with 200 in Madison and under 300 in Fairfield.

“It’s definitely due in big part to the shelter,” Blais said. “Their purpose and their intentions are fantastic and I totally understand, but they certainly bring a large amount of cost to the town in regards to the services that we provide.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow


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