The coldest air to hit central Maine in four years and wind chills as low as 22 degrees below zero are expected to blast through Monday night and Tuesday. Groups who provide assistance to those who are unhoused or lack adequate heat are warning the arctic temperatures could be life-threatening.

There is shelter space and other emergency assistance available throughout the Kennebec Valley for those in need of a place to be warm, officials said.

The temperatures are expected to be the coldest central Maine has seen since Jan. 6, 2018, according to Derek Schroeter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. Lows of 5 below zero were expected in Waterville and 3 below zero in Augusta. The cold temperatures, combined with wind chills expected to be as low as 20 to 22 degrees below zero Tuesday morning, prompted the Weather Service to issue a  wind chill advisory for the Augusta-Waterville areas.

Robin Oviatt lives in a tent encased in tarps and warmed with a propane space heater in Augusta within sight of the State House dome. Oviatt, seen Monday as temperatures were in the teens, plans to let other people stay in her home during the subzero temperatures forecasted for Tuesday, while she plans to stay at a friend’s apartment. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Area officials said shelter and other help can be found by calling 211, reaching out to general assistance offices in local municipalities or by contacting a shelter such as Bread of Life in Augusta. Bread of Life officials said the family shelter is not at full capacity and, even if it was, the organization would work to try to find housing for people in need, especially in the coming cold.

“General assistance (in municipalities) is working with us to try to take in as many clients as we can; we’ve been able to place almost everybody sent our way,” said Laura Briggs, shelter director for Bread of Life Ministries, which runs a homeless shelter for families and individuals, and a shelter for veterans on Hospital Street in Augusta. She said someone without housing can call the shelter at 626-3434.

But service providers are still worried that people living outside or without adequate heat could be put at risk by the extreme cold.

“There are certainly unhoused people in the Augusta area as well as folks who do not have adequate heat,” said Sarah Miller, administrative director of Bridging the Gap, an Augusta nonprofit organization based at Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church on Eastern Avenue in Augusta. The nonprofit includes a warming center open during the day Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. where anyone can come in to stay warm, as well as free clothing and essential items pantries. “This is extremely concerning to start with, and the concern is magnified given the forecasted frigid conditions. It truly can become a question of life or death.”

Emergency management officials said Monday they had not heard of any plans to open any temporary emergency shelters in the area and said area towns were referring people in need of a place out of the cold to area homeless shelters, including Bread of Life and Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville.

Robin Oviatt, a woman with multiple health problems, is living in a tent with a space heater a short distance from the State House because she can’t find an apartment she can afford on her meager disability income. She said she’s had homeless people asking her where they can go when the extreme cold comes. She’s frustrated that she doesn’t think area officials are moving fast enough to provide at least an emergency shelter for people without housing and stuck out in the cold. She said ongoing efforts by several entities to create emergency housing are moving too slowly.

Robin Oviatt checks the propane that heats the tent encased in tarps where she lives in Augusta within sight of the State House dome. Oviatt plans to let other people stay in her home when a subzero cold front arrives this week while she stays at a friend’s apartment. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“Apparently nothing seems to be happening where I can point these people to go, to keep them from freezing to death,” said Oviatt, who has insulated her tent, which is also encased in layers of tarps, to help fight the elements. “That means people are going to freeze on the streets, for no other reason than they’re homeless.”

She said she’ll survive, but she’s worried about homeless people who, unlike her, don’t have any income, nor a tent set up on a parcel of property she rents.

Oviatt, who is blind, said she’s planning to let others stay in her tent during the arctic blast while she stays at a friend’s apartment.

Nichole Mullens, a senior caseworker in the city of Augusta’s health and welfare department, confirmed that no temporary shelter is planned, but said the city has assisted people in need of emergency housing and was able to place them and plans to continue to do so as needed.

In Waterville, the city is relying on the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter as a warming center, said Fire Chief Shawn Esler. If the shelter were to become overwhelmed, the department would look to set up an additional warming center, which could be done fairly quickly.

In the meantime, Esler said, he advises residents to bring animals inside if possible, make sure exit doors aren’t frozen shut or blocked by snow, and ensure that walkways are shoveled and salted. Additionally, if residents are using an electric heater, make sure the space it is in has carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, and plug the heater directly into an outlet, not an extension cord or power strip.

“We are hopeful that with the weather we don’t have too many people requiring services,” Esler said.

In Somerset County, county officials hadn’t received calls from local town officials or residents asking for assistance or warming centers, said Tammy Barker, deputy director of communications for the county emergency management agency. But if residents or town officials reached out to the county, they would look to get something set up.

Similarly in Skowhegan, Fire Chief Shawn Howard said that the town has not set up any warming centers yet, but will do so if the town gets calls requesting it. In the past the town has used the community center as a warming center, Howard said, and the department will continue to monitor the situation and adjust plans as needed.

Howard said because this cold spell is predicted to last around 48 hours, he is “hoping people are prepared for that.”

Schroeter said an arctic front was expected to move through Monday night, dropping temperatures quickly, bringing subzero lows. During the day Tuesday, highs were expected only in the low single-digits, with subzero lows expected again Tuesday night. Then the wind will shift and bring warmer air from the southwest, which should increase temperatures into the mid-20s Wednesday and low 30s by Thursday.

Sledders Jaxon Arsenault, right, and sister Taylor, 5, struggle to gain traction while climbing their icy and snow-packed driveway Monday at their home in China. They got in some sledding before the arrival of an arctic blast that’s forecast to bring below-zero temperatures. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Maine Emergency Management Agency officials, in a news release, said wind chills in the state could be as low as 30 degrees below zero Tuesday morning and urged residents and visitors to use caution during the extreme cold temperatures.

“With extreme cold temperatures coming to Maine this week, I encourage Maine people to take every precaution to stay warm and to check on friends, family and neighbors to ensure they are safe,” Gov. Janet Mills said in the news release. “For those who are concerned about their ability to stay warm, support is available by calling 2-1-1, with warming centers now opening in communities across the state. Please be safe and stay warm.”

Morning Sentinel reporters Kaitlyn Budion and Haley Hersey contributed to this story.

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