WATERVILLE — City officials and those who advocate on behalf of the homeless are exploring options for emergency shelters after the City Council was told this week that about 190 households that receive rental assistance are in jeopardy of losing their housing because funding has ended.

Nancy Sanford, a volunteer with Starfish Village Ministry, a program of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ at 21 College Ave. told the council Tuesday of the dire situation families are facing now that emergency aid is no longer available to them.

That federal funding is part of the emergency rental assistance program funneled through MaineHousing to agencies, including the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program.

Starfish operates Stone Soup Cafe, a soup kitchen in Winslow, and works to help people obtain housing and other necessities.

“Winter happens every year and people need housing in off seasons,” Sanford told the City Council.

She said her understanding was that First Church of Waterville, formerly called the First Baptist Church, at the corner of Park and Elm streets is being considered as an emergency shelter. That church several years ago had an emergency shelter in its basement during the winter months, which was funded through donations. It served as an overflow shelter for the former Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, which at the time was an old, crowded building on Ticonic Street.


Sanford said the city has between $800,000 and $900,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act money that could possibly be used to help fund such a shelter, and the city is exploring the idea of buying a tent to serve as a warming shelter for up to 15 homeless people.

City Manager Steve Daly said Wednesday the city recognizes the need for an emergency shelter and has $847,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds, part of which could be used to help fund such a shelter, contingent on City Council approval.

“We’re exploring possibilities,” Daly said.

“I think we need to explore it and find out under what circumstances and conditions the church would be interested,” Daly said, “and we’d have to decide if we’re interested.”

The church’s senior minister, the Rev. Stephen Meidahl, said in an email late Wednesday that discussion by city officials of his church was news to him. “No one has ever approached us or discussed this with our church,” he said.

Funding for such a shelter could come from the city’s operating budget or fund balance, capital reserves or ARPA money, according to Daly.


The city also is exploring buying an all-season tent that could be an emergency shelter that is heated or cooled inside, Daly said. He said Chief Shawn Esler of the Waterville Fire Department has a lead on a tent for about $30,000 that could be in Waterville in about five weeks.

Daly said the city must prepare for an increase in people seeking emergency shelter.

“Winter is upon us, obviously today,” he said, referring to Wednesday’s snowfall, “and we recognize that there are going to be some number of homeless people looking for shelter over the winter. The state and federal money for qualifying families and individuals has gone away. It’s all been used up, so there is no other funding.”

Daly said some of the 191 parties in Waterville affected by the lack of funding would not qualify for general assistance.

Denise Murray, director of Waterville’s Health and Welfare Department, said 56 people who are homeless applied for general assistance from July to the beginning of November. Asked if they were able to find housing, Murray said she did not know.

“I’m going to say that we have very few that are able to secure permanent housing because of the fact that housing costs have gone to the extreme,” Murray said. “What used to be apartments that were $750, maybe, for a one-bedroom have gone upwards of $950 to $975. The prices have increased tremendously in the last five years, so it’s been difficult.”


KVCAP confirmed with the city the 191 households now without emergency rental aid, according to Daly and Murray.

Monica Grady, KVCAP’s senior director of energy, housing and community initiatives, who oversees the emergency rental assistance program, said earlier this month that federal funding for the program flows through MaineHousing and had undergone several changes since its inception, always with the goal to make the money last as long as possible.

In June, the guidelines were changed, reducing from 15 to 12 the number of months of funding for which people could be eligible. Being eligible was always coupled with the caveat “for as long as funding is available,” she said.

KVCAP was notified at the end of September the program was on pause and KVCAP could longer accept applications. At the time, it appeared the funding would run out by the end of October, according to Grady.

MaineHousing made a final allocation to all of the Community Action Program agencies in the state, and once that is spent, there will be no more money, she said.

She said at the time that MaineHousing was pushing for additional funds so the program could continue at least for a few more months, but there was no indication that would be successful.


Scott Thistle, spokesman for MaineHousing, wrote in an email Wednesday that various agencies and offices are working to secure additional federal funding, but it appears emergency rental assistance in Maine “is unlikely to continue or restart.”

Thistle said the number of households discussed at Tuesday’s council meeting — 191 — is a snapshot of the total number of households in Waterville that had received rental aid between Sept. 1 and Oct. 25. He said it was “a very set period of time, not an ongoing number.”

“It is important to reiterate this program was not designed nor funded to be an ongoing rent support program,” Thistle wrote. “It was one-time funding and was meant to help people through the most difficult parts of the pandemic. To that end in Maine the program helped more than 34,0000 unique households and paid over $287 million in rent to landlords across the state.”

Daly said Waterville officials are expected to meet again next week to continue reviewing shelter options.

Sanford emphasized the importance Wednesday of having infrastructure in place year-round for emergency shelter so officials do not have to discuss it every fall.

“My underlying hope is that we won’t forget about homeless people come April or May, when the weather gets better,” she said. “Homeless people are homeless 365 days a year, unless they find a place to live. That, for me, is the bottom line.”

The Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter at 19 Colby St. was full to capacity Wednesday, with 48 people, according to a spokeswoman who said the number of people there is greater than this time last year.

She said the shelter uses its conference room as a warming center so homeless people can stay there from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. and get food, a shower and a cot on which to sleep until there is a spot for them at the main shelter. On average, about 15 people stay at the warming shelter each night.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Thursday, Nov. 17, with response from the senior minister for First Church of Waterville.

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