AUGUSTA — When Army veteran Dave Austin found the veterans’ shelter at Bread of Life Ministries — one of only two homeless shelters in Augusta — he was lost, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, in recovery from a drug addiction and fresh out of jail with nowhere else to go.

The shelter took him in and gave him a hot meal and a bed. Also, Austin told a crowd gathered for groundbreaking ceremonies for an expansion of Bread of Life’s shelters, it gave him a fresh, positive start to a new life.

“This was the start to my journey to where I am today,” said Austin, who now has an apartment in Augusta and volunteers regularly to drive Bread of Life’s van to collect and distribute food for those in need. “I was on a 30-year lost road. There is no place I know that has what they have here. They have a plan for everybody. And they say take the ball and go with it. I took that ball and I was up at 7 a.m. every day, ready to do whatever I needed to get my life back on track.”

In addition to the veterans’ shelter, the 26-bed one for families will be expanded to 40 beds.

The goal of the expansion, as noted in the organization’s fundraising efforts, is to no longer have to say “no” when homeless families and individuals are looking for a bed because they have no place to stay.

Executive Director John Richardson said the shelter gets about 600 calls a year from people it has to turn away. Some of those calls are from the same people, still homeless, calling multiple days to see if there is space. He said the shelter probably turns away about 180 people and families a year.

“Josh takes calls every single day: ‘I’m homeless. I’m in the woods. I’m in my car. What can you do to help me?'” Richardson said of Josh Baker, a shelter attendant at Bread of Life. “And then we have to say ‘no’ because we don’t have a bed available. We get 600 of those calls a year. So our board became courageous and said we’re not going to say ‘no’ again.”

The veterans’ shelter, next to the family shelter, also will be expanded, adding three new bedrooms to provide more space and privacy for veterans who live at the facility, which takes up to 12 veterans a night and which Richardson said is also almost always full. The expansion there will double the number of bedrooms — from three to six — add another full bathroom, increase accessibility and double the size of the kitchen area.

James Marcoux, a Marine with eight years of military service — six of them on active duty — now rents a home in Augusta. He recently became a father and also delivers food for Bread of Life. He said he came to the veterans’ shelter with PTSD and found it to be a place where he could collect his thoughts and reorganize his life. He said the shelter helped him turn back into the person he was when he first joined the Marines, a person who helps others.

Shelter officials held a ceremony to break ground for the project Tuesday despite still being short of fundraising revenue to pay for it, by about $163,000. Richardson, who said he is confident the remaining needed money will be raised, said so far they’ve raised $407,000 of their $571,000 goal.

“We’re going to break ground and trust, in faith, that the rest of that money is going to come,” he said.

Workers with Lajoie Brothers, the contractor chosen to do the work, said they had planned to start actual work on it Tuesday; but because of heavy rainfall, they decided to wait until Wednesday to begin.

“We see the need,” Joe Lajoie said of the construction project, “and we’re excited to start and move forward with it.”

Richardson said both shelters will continue to operate during construction.

Scott Fosset’s parents were among the seven families that came together to form Bread of Life and create a homeless shelter 34 years ago. He said his 81-year-old mother, Nancy, couldn’t make it to the groundbreaking Tuesday but she is thrilled with the project and the expansion will be beyond her wildest dreams.

Victoria Abbott, board member and treasurer for Bread of Life, said the expansion project and fundraising that makes it possible “exemplifies neighbors helping neighbors.”

The Rev. Francis Morin, retired former leader of Augusta-based St. Michael Catholic Parish, read “A Prayer for Homeless People” to open Tuesday’s formal groundbreaking.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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