AUGUSTA — Construction of a major expansion at Bread of Life Ministries’ homeless shelters, which officials hope will help them finally no longer have to turn homeless people in need away regularly because of a lack of space, is complete.

The expansion of the nonprofit organization’s family shelter in Augusta, from 26 to 40 beds, and an expansion of space, bedrooms and addition of accessibility to veterans with disabilities to the adjacent veterans’ shelter, should mean officials there can answer “yes” to requests for a place to stay far more often than they’ve been able to in the organization’s first 35 years.

Paul Arbour, a longtime board member of Bread of Life Ministries, said Monday the fundraising campaign for the expansion, dubbed “Never Say No Again,” reflected a goal of no longer having to turn away homeless people looking for a place to stay because of a lack of space or beds.

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.

“Imagine being on the other end of the phone, when someone is saying ‘I’m sorry; you can’t sleep in this warm place tonight,'” Arbour said at opening ceremonies attended by a number of donors and Bread of Life volunteers and workers. “Bread of Life Ministries’ clients’ lives will forever be changed because of your love and generosity.”

While the additional and renovated space in the veterans’ shelter is already open and in use, the bedrooms in the Hospital Street family shelter are not open yet. Richardson said they are ready, but the organization still needs to hire a case manager to help support the clients the new bedrooms will house. He said it is important clients have all the support services, including help finding long-term housing, work and substance abuse and other counseling, as well as beds.

Kate Arline, a shelter attendant for Bread of Life, said while leading a tour of the facility she couldn’t wait to tell the many people who have been waiting to get into the shelter when the new beds will be available. She said she knew of a family of five that calls regularly looking for space in the shelter, only to be turned away. She said in the meantime they’ve been staying in another shelter, in Waterville, but want to return to the Augusta area.

Veterans shelter residents Neal Turner, left, and James Yates arrange the new kitchen at Bread of Life Ministries in Augusta on Monday. The nonprofit hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate adding 14 beds to the existing 26-bed family shelter, as well as the kitchen and additional space at the veterans shelter, which is the only one of its kind in Maine. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“I’m sure it will fill up quickly,” Arline said of the new space at the shelter.

James Yates, an Army veteran who has been staying at Bread of Life’s shelter for veterans, the only shelter exclusively for veterans in Maine, for about a month, said he was there because he had surgery at Togus that left him unable to work and then, with no income, he became homeless. He was staying with a friend in Portland before he came to the shelter.

He said staff members at the shelter are helpful and are working to connect him with resources to find longer-term housing. He said the addition to the building, which includes an expansive kitchen where veterans cook meals for themselves and their fellow veterans, is fantastic.

“It’s awesome. I think there should be more shelters similar to this for veterans. I know other vets in southern Maine that could use a resource like this place,” Yates said. “The staff are very knowledgeable and resourceful here. It has been a very good experience so far.”

Robert Lindie, an Army veteran and former resident of the veterans’ shelter who now volunteers with Bread of Life and other organizations, said coming to the shelter for help after 15 years of living “in the woods” allowed him to salvage his life, which he said was in shambles, and get sober, which he said he has been for five years. The shelter was recommended to him by the staff at Togus.

“It wasn’t so long ago I was a resident here at Bread of Life,” Lindie said. “I was having a tough time dealing with life. I wasn’t in very good shape, and the one thing that salvaged me in my life was coming here. The folks here got my feet planted on the ground and gave me a second chance.”

Veterans shelter residents Neal Turner, right, and James Yates meet in the new kitchen at Bread of Life Ministries in Augusta on Monday. The nonprofit hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate adding 14 beds to the existing 26-bed family shelter, as well as the kitchen and additional space at the veterans shelter, which is the only one of its kind in Maine. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Richardson said Lindie, who volunteers at the Bread of Life soup kitchen, reads to World War II veterans at Togus and started a food pantry at his church, “has given to this community way more than Bread of Life ever gave to Robert.”

Construction of the additional space took place as the shelter continued to operate. Richardson said the staff did not have to reduce the number of clients served there during the construction project, which began last November.

Fundraising for the $571,000 project has gone well, Richardson said, but is not quite complete. The organization still needs to raise about $40,000.

The Rev. Carolyn Neighoff, one of the founders of Bread of Life Ministries, and a former teacher and school principal in Augusta, blessed the newly expanded facilities in a prayer.

“Our good and gracious God, we ask your blessing, upon these houses of shelter,” Neighoff said. “Open our eyes and our hearts to the needs of others. Help us to expand our base of support for this important work here in Augusta. Give us love and compassion to help the people that live here.”

 

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