SKOWHEGAN — Richard Berry, pastor of the Trinity Evangelical Free Church and homeless shelter on McClellan Street in Skowhegan, said he deals a lot with “loaves and fish” these days.

The reference is to the miracle cited in the New Testament in which Jesus is said to have fed 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish.

Miracles happen, Berry said.

His 60-bed men’s homeless shelter – and soon his new 48-bed shelter for families with children – are proof of that, he said. Berry and the church bought a house, barn and land abutting church property on West Front Street in February 2014 for the family shelter.

All he needs now is another $400,000 or so to tear down the barn and build the new two-story shelter for homeless families — men, women and children. The existing house will be used for his social services office and medical clinic.

“We did the other one – God did the other one – in three years,” he said of the men’s shelter, which opened with 45 beds in 2008 and expanded to 60 beds in 2011. “I’d like to see this one done in three years. We do it with donations. I raise a little here and there traveling and speaking.”

Berry paid $50,000 in cash for the land, barn and house next to the church from donations collected as he crisscrossed the country, visiting other churches pleading his case for the homeless. He has received donations of money, labor, equipment and materials to get the job done. He raised the $50,000 in six weeks, he said.

“It’s a lot of loaves and fishes, brother,” Berry said.

He has written a book about his travels, too, the proceeds of which he hopes will add to church coffers.

“It’s still got to be edited and published. It’s about everything that’s happened the last seven years. It’s about the seven-year experience and the miracles of this ministry,” he said. “I’ve been inundated by people who want the book. They want to read about the miracles. They’re blown away by what’s happened here. Everybody that comes in touch with this their minds get blown. They say what’s happening here can’t happen, but it’s happening.”

Berry, 66, said the current shelter is at its maximum of 60 men. He said 10 children and 15 women now live in the church section of the complex.

Homelessness is a problem that isn’t going away, he said.

“It’s the lack of work,” he said. “It’s domestic violence. There’s so much that leads to homelessness. They used to say it’s because of drugs and alcohol, but really, that’s pretty minor in the numbers now.

“Addiction is not the No. 1 cause of homelessness – not here, maybe somewhere else. I can only talk for what we get.”

The No. 1 cause of homelessness is the economy, he said. People working for minimum wage can’t afford a decent apartment. He said landlords also don’t want a family of six living in a one-bedroom apartment.

The Trinity shelter, he said, takes in the families with children and is able to place them through state programs. He said his own social service workers assist in the placement of families.

Those offices will be part of the move to the new shelter along with the medical clinic, which is now in the church with a triage room and an examining room. He said he still is not sure what he will do with the upstairs of the new house, but is somewhat restricted by local fire and safety codes. He said the shelter’s food pantry might end up moving to the basement of the new house.

Berry’s plan for the new shelter is to keep families together. He said the large yard will be fenced off as a play area for children.

“Right now, it’s dad in the men’s shelter and mum and the kids over here in the church,” he said. “What’s more traumatic on top of being homeless when the kids lose you? It’s wrong.”

Berry said he hopes to tear down the barn within the next three weeks, clear the land and pour a concrete slab for the new shelter. He would give no timeline for construction.

“I’ll build it as the stuff comes in,” he said. “It will go as fast or as slow if I can raise help.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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