Sue Gayne, the church’s missions motivator, shows a former Sunday school classroom that would be renovated for use in the Augusta emergency overnight shelter proposed for South Parish Congregational Church in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — City councilors voted to use $124,000 in federal funding to help open an emergency overnight homeless shelter this winter.

One councilor said Thursday’s unanimous vote will save lives in the city, where in recent years social services providers said they haven’t been able to offer some unhoused people looking for refuge from the cold a place to stay overnight. That has led to an increasing number of unhoused people sleeping outside, even on winter nights.

The new shelter will be in the basement of South Parish Congregational Church, where church officials offered the use of the space and will employ workers to oversee the shelter. It will be open seven days a week over the coming winter months.

“I know there are a lot of nonprofit agencies that are working as a team (on the new shelter) but I want to sincerely thank the members and staff at South Parish Congregational Church, for having an approach that is really humane and visionary, and looking at their building and repurposing it in that regard,” said Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind. “This vote tonight is really to save lives in our city.”

The site, at the corner of State and Bridge streets, would be low-barrier, meaning people sometimes turned away from other shelters, such as family shelters, because they are actively using alcohol or other substances, have mental health problems or have a criminal background, would be able to spend the night there.

The city’s contribution of $124,000 from its allotment of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds will help pay for the creation of the shelter and cover its first year of operating costs. The proposal was also awarded a $30,000 grant from the United Way of Kennebec Valley.


Councilors praised church officials for stepping up to offer the space to shelter unhoused people.

“I was part of some of the very early conversations where Sue Gayne (mission motivator for South Parish Congregational Church) in particular led the vision and led the way in talking to the pastor and bringing in so many wonderful community partners,” said At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen. “And I am very grateful this place will be available this winter. And I’ll be able to go to bed knowing most everybody will have a safe place to stay, if they are willing.”

The council vote specifies that up to $124,000 in funds would go toward the cost of an overnight emergency shelter during the period of Oct. 15, 2022, to April 30, 2023.

Sarah Miller, a leader of efforts to start the shelter, said it would be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day. Miller is the executive director of Bridging the Gap, a nonprofit group that runs a daytime winter warming center at another Augusta church, Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church. She is one of several area service providers involved in the effort, with the church and city officials, to open an overnight emergency shelter in Augusta.

The South Parish Congregational Church in Augusta will house an overnight shelter for homeless people. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

The shelter is expected to have a director and at least two people working overnights, who would be employees of South Parish Congregational Church.

Miller anticipates between 12 and 20 people would use the new shelter on an average night.


One problem for the new shelter could be the space’s current lack of a sprinkler system to extinguish fires. City Manager Susan Robertson said, when councilors discussed the proposal last week, a sprinkler system would be required to provide sleeping pads so people could sleep at the shelter. But she said they don’t yet know whether a sprinkler system will be able to be installed in time for this winter. She said if one isn’t, the shelter may only be able to provide chairs, not sleeping pads, and serve as more of a drop-in center than a place for people to sleep.

The proposal to use part of the church property for the overnight warming center and shelter is scheduled to go before the Planning Board on Sept. 13.

Miller said the shelter organizers don’t plan to come to the city again next year to seek funding to run the shelter. She said the director to be hired to run the shelter will work year-round and have, as part of the job, responsibility to raise funds for the shelter, including through seeking grants.

Miller said families with children would not use the emergency overnight shelter, as other housing would be arranged for them elsewhere.

Gayne said a daycare at the church will continue to operate. She said it opens at 8 a.m. and is in a totally separate area of the church’s property.

City officials anticipate Augusta will receive about $2 million, over two years, in federal ARPA funds. Other uses of the funds, so far, have included employee bonuses, covering revenue losses at the Augusta Civic Center and public safety equipment upgrades.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. 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.