Josh Drouin, 32, sits Tuesday along the banks of the Kennebec River near the railroad trestle and Head of Falls park in downtown Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Josh Drouin looked out over the cold Kennebec River, brown and roaring as it flowed under the train trestle Tuesday off Front Street in Waterville.

“Isn’t it beautiful down here, and peaceful?” he said. “Listen to that river.”

Drouin, 32, was sitting on a square, concrete slab in a grove of leafless trees littered with paper cups, plastic bags and other debris.

“We just clean it up,” Drouin said. “We try to keep it somewhat clean. It’s still messy but it’s a lot better than it was.”

With Drouin were Mack Emery, 51, and Robert Riopel Jr., 56, both of whom live at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter just north of Head of Falls.

The three met only recently at the concrete slab they refer to as the “flat rock.” They typically spend warm days there, talking and enjoying the view.

Advertisement

“To be honest with you, it gets me out of the shelter for a while,” Emery said.

Drouin is homeless, too, but a friend lets him sleep in his apartment at night until he finds a place.

“I got my voucher for an apartment,” he said. “I’ve called every landlord in this town, day after day after day, but there’s no housing anywhere.”

Drouin kept asking Emery what time it was because he just got a new job cooking in a restaurant and didn’t want to be late for his 4 p.m. start time.

“I grew up in Lewiston,” Drouin said. “I’m in recovery four months now. I’ve been homeless three years and dealing with addiction the last 10. I lost my dad when I was 18. That’s kind of when it started. I got in a car accident and started with pain meds and one thing led to another.”

Josh Drouin, 32, smokes a cigarette Tuesday along the banks of the Kennebec River near the railroad trestle and Head of Falls park in downtown Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Drouin got married and had two children who are now 14 and 6, but the marriage didn’t last. He was trained in the culinary arts and cooked in restaurants all over the country, he said, and even did a stint as a lobsterman in Phippsburg. But the addiction got the better of him and he kept losing jobs.

Advertisement

“I’m on the right path now,” he said. “When you go so far down, there’s only one way to go and that’s up. I’m four months clean. I don’t wake up every morning worrying about where I’m going to find heroin. You put your head down and go forward. My kids need me. My kids mean everything to me.”

He stubbed out a cigarette on the concrete while listening to Emery tell stories about growing up in Rockland, dropping out of school at 16, working as a dishwasher and later as a fisherman, lobsterman and laborer. But like Drouin, life didn’t go as planned. He suffered from bipolar disorder and struggled. Disabled because of his illness, he has been homeless a few years. He is doing better though, he said. He has a case worker now and says the Waterville homeless shelter has been excellent.

“I’m waiting for a (housing) voucher,” Emery said. “It’s really hard to get a place around here — it really is.”

Riopel was quieter, mostly speaking only when spoken to, but said he just passed a year living at the homeless shelter. He recited aloud a poem he wrote that begins: “Brainwaves / Left on the streets to defend yourself / you do what you can to get by. This time, I think I’ll go it alone / I’m going to do good on my own …”

“I wrote it in 1984 in Florida,” Riopel said.

As Drouin prepared to head to his first day on the new job, he reflected on what it has been like being homeless. Last winter, he lived in his truck.

“It’s alright in the summer,” he said. “It’s rough in the winter. It’s rough and it’s cold. It’s Maine.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.