WATERVILLE — With homeless and poverty issues at the forefront as Maine faces a housing crisis, the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter will host three virtual forums this month to talk with the community about the problems.

Katie Spencer White is executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Katie Spencer White, CEO of the homeless shelter, located at 19 Colby St., organized the forums, which will be held via Zoom at 7 p.m. this Wednesday, as well as Oct. 13 and 27. On Wednesday, White will give a 30-minute presentation on the problems of homelessness and poverty and their causes, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Those wanting to listen to or take part in the meeting can find information on the shelter’s website or can contact Tanya Fossett, the shelter’s development and communications director at 660-1042.

On Oct. 13, White is scheduled to discuss what is being done now to address issues and describe the homeless services system, followed by questions and answers. On Oct. 27, she is set to discuss where to go from here and what policy solutions are possible. A question-and-answer session will follow.

White said in a phone interview Monday that she speaks to a lot of different groups about homelessness and poverty, and she thinks there are misperceptions around housing and other issues in the community. The forums, she said, will be an opportunity for people to ask questions about what is going on in Waterville, the county and state.

“We’re not necessarily going to have all the answers, but I think the more information community members have, the more able they are to be good advocates and participate in some way that is meaningful to them,” White said.

People may have questions about the lifting of the eviction moratorium that was put in place during the coronavirus pandemic and what that will mean. They also may have questions about funding available through the American Rescue Plan Act to address homeless and housing issues and what is planned in Maine and nationwide to address housing issues, according to White.

She said that generally in Maine, the housing crisis and related problems have been decades in the making.

“I have a lot of faith in Mainers to come up with a solution,” she said.

The Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville is located on Colby Street. Morning Sentinel file photo

White said in an email that while the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter on Colby Street may not always have a bed for everyone who needs one, it is the only venue in the region that allows anyone who needs access to a bathroom and shower to come to the shelter for that. The shelter provides blankets, clothing, food and other essentials, according to White.

“We also operate a very flexible diversion program that allows us to work with people and help them develop alternative plans to entering emergency shelter,” she said. “I also want to highlight the work of Kennebec Behavioral Health which has a street outreach program called PATH that also does a significant amount of work with people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. Collectively, our programs ensure that the majority of people we serve are able to achieve stable permanent housing which is the key to ending homelessness. Our desire is to ensure that everyone experiencing homelessness has access to these safe, comprehensive and confidential services.”

The shelter on Colby Street is the only small shelter in the state that runs a 24-hour, fully-staffed Federal Emergency Management Agency shelter that has more than doubled its capacity to serve people, especially those for whom a congregate shelter is not a good fit, according to White.

“Sadly, FEMA funding is ending on Dec. 31, 2021, but if either the city or the county wishes to allocate American Rescue Plan Act funding to keep this expanded capacity open through the winter, we would be more than happy to continue this vital work,” she said.

The shelter normally is a 55-bed shelter and last winter it served more than 130 people a day with emergency shelter, many of them families with children, she said.

“Our program provides long-term case management, housing navigation and coordination with other service providers, which is vital given the number of unsafe discharges from hospitals, prisons, and the anticipated rise in evictions that will come with the end of eviction moratorium,” White said.

Waterville Mayor Jay Coelho, left, and Maureen Ausbrook, shown Wednesday, plan on running a soup kitchen for the homeless. The food will be prepared at Coelho’s Grub bakery in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

White said she is excited about the announcement last week that Mayor Coelho and the Rev. Maureen Ausbrook, who supervises the Starfish Village Soup Kitchen, formerly the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen, are working together to cook food for the homeless at Coelho’s bakery, Grub, on College Avenue, and deliver it to homeless people where they are.

“Clearly, the need is great and we welcome opportunities to collaborate,” White said.

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