FARMINGTON — Leaders from Western Maine Homeless Outreach are optimistic about the possibility of moving into a new space downtown that would nearly double the capacity of Franklin County’s only homeless shelter.

The shelter, currently located on U.S. Route 2 in the basement of the Living Waters Assembly of God church, is eyeing a new space in the Holman House, a historic home that is part of the Old South First Congregational Church of Farmington on Main Street.

“We often have a waiting list, and if we were able to change locations, we could have a larger space where we would be able to serve more people and more families,” said Diane Alexander, case manager at the shelter. “That’s kind of our goal. Right now at any given time, we may have four to six families on a wait list for a bed to open up.”

Earlier this month, the shelter’s board of directors agreed to pursue the idea of renting space in Holman House, previously home to Franklin County Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services.

“They moved out at the end of October, and we were on the lookout for a nonprofit agency that would fit well with our church’s mission,” said Chris Magri, moderator at the First Congregational Church of Farmington. “We heard the shelter was looking for a new home, so I contacted them to see if they wanted to look into it.”

Steve Bracy, president of the shelter’s board of directors, said he is confident the move can take place this fall so long as the church and shelter can work together to complete about $100,000 worth of renovations.

Bracy, who is also the pastor at Living Waters, helped start the shelter five years ago along with a group of local social service agencies and churches.

Advocates for the homeless said at the time a shelter was long overdue in Franklin County, citing a growing population of homeless residents sleeping on couches or living in tents.

Because the current space doesn’t have a sprinkler system, the shelter is only able to offer 16 beds.

“It was a temporary beginning,” Bracy said. “Five years ago, we didn’t know if we would renew or not. But we’ve kind of outgrown the space we’re in. We didn’t have a whole lot of choice other than to find something bigger with more room.”

The shelter is full about 95 percent of the time, according to Alexander. In 2017, 60 percent of guests were part of families with children and one-third of total guests were children.

Hannah Chapman, 5, clutches her mother, Jennifer Sweetster, while in their room at the Western Maine Homeless Outreach shelter in Farmington on Wednesday. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

The facility is a dry shelter, meaning people cannot stay there if they come in under the influence, and drugs and alcohol are not allowed.

Guests are also not allowed to be members of any sex offender registries.

“The benefit is during the warmer months, when we don’t have daytime programming, this location will give them access to DHHS, the general assistance office, the rec center and public library,” Alexander said. “There’s a lot more opportunity for them and also a lot more businesses so they can do job searches and things like that all within walking distance.”

To fund the renovations, the shelter is working on a capital campaign that has so far raised $13,000, Bracy said.

Leaders will also be meeting with area businesses May 30 to address any concerns about a homeless shelter moving in downtown.

“I know some people are concerned, and that’s why we’re having an informational meeting with local businesses, to answer their questions,” he said. “We have a great board. The chief of police is on our board. He knows what we’ve dealt with the last five years and there haven’t been any big issues, so I don’t see it being any different downtown.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm