Darren Pelletier huddles on a porch at a house near Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter on Thursday. Pelletier has been spending the recent frigid nights at Preble Street or the Oxford Street Shelter. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Wrapped in winter coats, George Lloyd sat in a black metal folding chair on the first floor of Portland’s Oxford Street emergency shelter, dozing quietly, waiting to learn where he would be sleeping Thursday night.

Lloyd was banned from the shelter for a year in February after a fight with another resident. But with temperatures expected to drop below zero Thursday night, Lloyd was back, pleading his case.

“Every night, it’s too cold to be out,” he said, removing one of the two knit caps on his head. “I was trespassed from the shelter (but) it’s been a while, and I need a place to be. I’m hoping I can get cleared to stay here.”

Maine is in the grip of a record-breaking cold spell that is expected to last well into next week. Portland set a record Thursday with the coldest high temperature for the date – 8 degrees. The previous record, 11 degrees, was set in 1949. The normal high temperature for the date is 34 degrees.

Lloyd is one of scores of Portland’s homeless who have sought refuge from the deadly cold at the Oxford Street Shelter, which since December has kept its doors open during the day, adding a precious heated place where virtually anyone can go to warm up.

At nearby Preble Street, a nonprofit that runs a busy day shelter, more than 400 people sought services Wednesday, about double the number of an average day, said Donna Yellen, chief program officer and a social worker at the facility.

Yellen said during these bitter days, the shelter’s dining room is open all day, not just at meal-time.

“We’ve been so crowded,” said Yellen. “The bitter cold is just sending people in to get refuge wherever they can. We’re really grateful to be able to provide that. We continue to worry for people and want to make sure they’re getting the services they need.”

Arthur Rawding warms up Thursday in a common room at Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter. The shelter sleeps a maximum of 154 people and reached capacity on Wednesday night as the temperature dipped down to single digits. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

The Oxford Street Shelter was filled to capacity Wednesday night, and was close to capacity Tuesday, when the mass of arctic air parked over New England.

The converted triple-decker building sleeps a maximum of 154 people. At Preble Street, an additional 75 mats line the floors whenever need skyrockets.

Until Tuesday, home for George Lloyd was the Salvation Army. But he was asked to leave after someone caught him smoking marijuana one night, Lloyd said.

Before that, Lloyd worked at various jobs, earning enough to rent a room or stay at a sober house.

This week, with nowhere else to go, he said, he wrapped two bags of clothes in plastic, stuffed them in a snowbank and went back to the Oxford Street day shelter to warm up.

At night, Lloyd said, he slept at the Milestone Foundation, a “wet” shelter for people with ongoing alcohol abuse problems.

But the sleep was not restful, Lloyd said, and he wanted to get back into the mainstream city shelter system. Meeting with him was Meaghan Void, the shelter’s assistant director.

George Lloyd waits at the Oxford Street Shelter for an appointment to talk with the staff about letting him back in. Lloyd was kicked out in February after a fight but pleaded his case, facing nights of dangerously cold temperatures. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Void and her staff are working to keep people healthy and alive during this cold snap, she said, including working with people like Lloyd, who may have been barred from entering in the past but are in more dire need, now that temperatures make sleeping outdoors dangerous.

Void said she and other staff members are ramping up the so-called re-entry meetings in light of the weather.

“Unless someone presents an imminent danger to themselves or the staff, we try to accommodate people,” Void said. “We’re in the business of keeping people in, not putting people out. So that’s what we’re going to do as often as we can.”

Void said the need for shelter services is always high during Maine winters, and this cold spell is no exception.

Warm hats, gloves, socks and long underwear are in demand, she said.

The added stress of winter, in addition to the burden of being without reliable shelter, means the staff sees people dealing with extraordinary stress.

Some people who stay at Oxford Street have mobility problems, and need walkers, canes or other devices to get around. Snowy, icy sidewalks don’t help.

Carrying all of one’s possessions also becomes a greater burden, on top of any mental or physical health problems, Void said.

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