WATERVILLE — For 20-year-old Nicholas Turano, the possibility of moving upstairs is a really big deal.

That’s because the room he would have upstairs is one of the newly constructed units in the new Youth Empowerment Supports program at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter.

Unveiled on Friday, the 12 affordable housing units at the 19 Colby St. location are designed for homeless youth ages 18 to 24. In addition to housing, the new program provides a number of other services to the young people who will live there, such as career development, financial independence training, pre-vocational skill building, education navigation and others.

The units, which are single occupancy, consist of two one-bedroom units, four efficiency apartments, and a suite with six single bedrooms and a shared kitchen and common area. The units all have new appliances and furniture and cost a total of $1.7 million covered by grants and fundraising.

The cost for the tenants of these new units is 30 percent of their income, shelter officials said.

“Here is amazing,” Turano said, standing Friday in the shared kitchen of the apartment he’s hoping to move into.

Brian Watson, who is on the shelter’s board of directors, said this type of housing is critical, since there aren’t many landlords who want to lease to a person in that age bracket. Applicants must meet requirements set by the Maine Housing Authority, he said, and there is no time limit for staying in the apartments other than an individual aging out.

He said the hope is to start filling the apartments in the coming weeks. Plans for the expansion began three years ago, and it wasn’t until this past October that construction began.

“This was just empty space,” he said Friday afternoon during an open house for the expansion.

The main part of the shelter accommodates about 50 adult beds and an assortment of cribs and toddler beds.

David Sovetsky, program director, said that as part of the youth program, people living there receive navigation services. That means just living there is training them to manage rent payments, sign a lease, work with landlords and coexist with roommates and neighbors. He said while the target is those between 18 and 24, there will likely be some people a few years older living there.

Sovetsky said individuals have to meet United States Department of Housing and Urban Development definitions for homelessness as well as have some level of disability. He said one problem with the HUD definition for homelessness is that if a person is staying with someone else in any capacity, they are not technically homeless.

Sovetsky said a lot of people stay on someone else’s couch or find places to stay temporarily, so the definition needs to change. “That’s a concern,” he said.

Turano helped Sovetsky and others prepare for the grand opening by cleaning up and helping set up furniture. He pointed out that in the six-room unit, each bedroom has the basics, such as a bed and a dresser, and also bathrooms accessible to a disabled person. They also are equipped with a small refrigerator and microwave. The bedrooms open out onto the shared kitchen area.

Originally from Lewiston, Turano said he became homeless about two weeks ago. After bouncing around some, he settled on the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter because of the youth options they were building. He said the shelter helps individuals take advantage of those options, whether they want to continue their education or find something else, such as the military. He is attending Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield and eventually wants to get a four-year degree from the University of Maine.

Turano said he’s waiting for his application to be approved by the Maine State Housing Authority. While 12 beds might not sound like a lot, he sees it as a huge benefit for homeless youth.

“That’s a lot for youth who need a second shot at life,” he said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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