Shane Moody wipes his face as he and Shawn Stanford, in background, clean dishes Dec. 27 at a restaurant in downtown Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of an occasional series this winter examining homelessness in Maine.

WATERVILLE — It was 10 days before Christmas and a cold wind blew off the Kennebec River as Shane Moody paced back and forth outside his tent, smoking a cigarette before heading downtown to work.

Moody, 41, washes dishes about 35 hours a week at a restaurant within walking distance of his tent and takes home less than $300 a week. He lived in the tent at a homeless encampment by the river where the coldest night was 15 degrees. He slept on an air mattress with lots of blankets and used propane and kerosene heaters inside the tent for heat.

“It does the job,” he said in an interview. “It keeps me alive.”

Moody doesn’t cook food. He spends less than $10 a day on sandwiches and other food at a Cumberland Farms convenience store. “I eat when I can. I get food stamps and stuff. I have MaineCare.”

Shane Moody arrives back at his tent Dec. 16 as snow falls after an eight-hour shift washing dishes at a restaurant in downtown Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Moody and two others have lived in recent months at the encampment, though there were about a half-dozen tents. They helped each other out with food and other necessities. By mid-December, some people had left and some will likely return. The weather forecast called for several inches of snow. Asked what that would mean for the encampment, which had to evacuate during a recent flood, Moody hoped everyone would be all right.

“I have to stay with the tent, make sure it doesn’t collapse,” he said. “Stay up all night and brush the snow off.”

Some may believe homeless people have no one to blame but themselves because they don’t work or are unwilling to seek out a job to pay for housing. But Moody is representative of the working homeless — people who work regularly for a paycheck yet don’t earn enough to cover rent or a mortgage, and are trying to scrape together a better life while contending with substance abuse or mental health disorders. And in cases like Moody’s, they’re struggling with those challenges sometimes amid harsh weather conditions.

A 2021 study by the University of Chicago found that 53% of people under the age of 65 who were living in homeless shelters in 2010 were employed either full- or part-time. The percentage dropped in earlier years but still showed that from 2011 to 2018 an average of 39% of sheltered homeless had worked during the previous year. Meanwhile, 40% of unsheltered people were employed in 2010, the study found.

It is difficult to track the number of working homeless in Maine and nationally — the University of Chicago constructed its own dataset of the entire U.S. homeless population while incorporating individual-level government benefits and tax records. But the study still provides an understanding of the headwinds facing the homeless who are collecting a wage.

Chris Kilmurry, executive director of the Lewiston Housing Authority, noted that life can be hard even when one has resources. So imagine how difficult it can be if basic needs like a roof over your head and food were suddenly out of reach, he said.

“I think the perception that someone experiencing homelessness doesn’t work or try to help themselves is extremely off base,” Kilmurry said. “From what we see, no one wants to be homeless. The people who come to us at Lewiston Housing are trying to find a way out of homelessness. One of the biggest issues is there is not enough housing in Maine, and without an adequate housing supply, we will never be able to solve this problem.”


Before Moody moved to the tent along the river in Waterville, he traveled from hotel to hotel in places such as Long Island, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont for four years while working for a utility company where he inspected utility poles. The company paid for his hotel rooms.

“I used to dig 2 feet in the ground around poles,” he said. “I used to do 60 poles a day. I got fired for smoking a cigarette in a hotel room on Long Island because it was cold outside. That was March. I bounced around from place to place, slept outside a few times.”

He grew up in Bristol, Connecticut, and moved to Waterville when he was a teenager. His grandmother lived in Waterville and his mother had come to care for her. He attended Waterville Senior High School for about eight months, returned to Connecticut and stayed until he was 18 and then returned to Waterville.

Moody has a housing voucher from Kennebec Behavioral Health that would help him pay for an apartment. He has been looking, but apartments are expensive.

“I have to pay 30% of my income but I’ve got to find an apartment. I need to be in the Waterville area because I don’t have a car.”

Like many people who are homeless, Moody suffers from mental health conditions such as intermittent explosive disorder, or IED, as well as ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression. Moody said he’s not lazy, likes to work and has always worked.

“I’m trying. I can’t just sit around and do nothing. I’d go crazy. I’m a guy that’s used to working my ass off.”

Moody is always on time for work and often arrives an hour before his shift starts to help out, according to the owner of the restaurant where he works. The owner asked that he and the restaurant not be identified because of misconceptions people have about those who are homeless. He said Moody was an employee several years ago before he left to work at the utility company and when he returned to Waterville and wanted to resume work, he hired him back on the spot.

“He’s always had a good work ethic,” the owner said. “I’m happy to have him. I enjoy him as a person as well.”

Moody also suffers from a condition shared by many homeless: drug addiction. He spends $40 here and there for methamphetamines, he said. He goes to a local methadone clinic, which costs about $110 a week, but insurance pays for that, he said.

“I used to do heroin but I don’t do that no more,” Moody said.

The money he earns from work disappears quickly. He bought his propane tank for $60 and fills it for $23.50 at a J&S Oil in Winslow or Waterville. Kerosene costs him between $15 and $20 a night, he said. He gets $281 a month in food stamps and uses them at Cumberland Farms for food; laundry costs $15 to $20 a week; cigarettes are $8 a pack; and he spends money on gas for a friend, Mary Nadeau, to drive him around.

The tent encampment is in the shadow of the Hathaway Creative Center off Water Street, where tenants on upper floors with scenic views of the Kennebec River pay monthly rents of about $1,000 for a studio apartment and around $1,900 for a three-bedroom unit.


Finding an affordable place to live is a challenge, even if one is not homeless. Rental costs are on the rise, pushing many right out of the market.

People seeking housing vouchers to help offset rental costs face a long waiting list, depending on location.

“For us, the wait has consistently been about four to five years for several years now, but that’s not the same everywhere,” said Diane Townsend, executive director of the Waterville Housing Authority. “It depends on funding, turnover, non-responses, etc.”

Kilmurry, with the Lewiston Housing Authority, says 1,359 people are in that authority’s voucher program and 851 people are on the waiting list for vouchers. The number of people waiting for a voucher is tough to ascertain as it fluctuates based on multiple variables.

“We simply provide the voucher a recipient can use to rent an apartment, not the actual apartment,” Kilmurry said. “Once someone gets a voucher, they have 120 days to secure a rental or we need to take it back and go to the next person on the list, so a lot depends on the voucher holder’s ability and resources to identify an available apartment.”

Kilmurry said the market is extremely tight right now with vacancy at less than 1% in his area, as it is in most of Maine, so the authority cycles through a lot of vouchers. The authority typically pulls 100 names at a time off the waiting list to provide vouchers, so a ballpark timeline for someone’s name to come up if they applied today would be around eight months. However, the authority’s list is also purged twice a year to make sure the names and needs are current, so at that time the wait could drop considerably, he said.

Asked how many working homeless were waiting for housing, Kilmurry said 113 people were homeless, and of those 16 were working locally.

Misperceptions abound about who is or who becomes homeless, according to Townsend. The vision most people have of a homeless person is what they were presented in the past. But go to a large parking lot at night and one will see a variety of people living in their vehicles — young, old, single, married and those with families, she said.

Mary Nadeau helps haul Shane Moody’s belongings to her car Dec. 29 as he prepared to leave the homeless encampment where he had lived for nine months. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We have people coming to us regularly who are being told their rent is going to increase significantly from what they’ve paid for years, and they can’t afford the new rent or they’re just simply being told they have to leave,” she said. “Along with the sharp rise in utility costs, the recent sale of significant numbers of apartments to new investors in the area has exacerbated the issue. Most landlords are not just looking to put folks on the street, but they also aren’t in the business to lose money.”

Amanda Olson, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, said there are about 15,150 applicants waiting on the Maine Centralized Waiting List who are potentially eligible for a voucher through Augusta Housing, which is now serving people who first applied for vouchers in 2018.

“Here in Augusta, we see the longest wait times for one-bedroom units,” she said. “There are several other affordable housing properties in Augusta not owned by us, each with a separate waiting list. Typically, we see wait times over a year and averaging in the three-plus year range.”

Like Townsend, Olson said Augusta Housing has no way to assess how many working homeless are waiting for housing.

“Anecdotally, we receive calls from working individuals who are on our waiting list or in the process of applying for assistance who are homeless and typically staying in their vehicles,” she said.

Shawn Stanford wipes his brow Nov. 14 while he works at a restaurant in downtown Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The Hope Haven Gospel Mission on Lincoln Street in Lewiston can accommodate 36 people in its shelter, and there were 16 men and women staying there earlier this week, according to Joselyn Griggs, the shelter’s donor and volunteer coordinator. Of those 16, six had jobs, she said.

The Augusta Emergency Overnight Warming Center on Bridge Street in Augusta recently had between 25 and 30 people staying there from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and Director Julia Stone said five of those people had jobs and come to stay after they get out of work. The new center, affiliated with the South Parish Congregational Church, opened Nov. 1 and stays open until the end of April, according to Stone, who said those people who do not have jobs volunteer at the center by doing laundry, cleaning and other chores.

In 2019, 12% of people who stayed at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville received wages from jobs, and last year 5% received wages, according to CEO Katie Spencer White. She said most people staying at the shelter have some source of income; if not wages then benefits for disabled, working-age people and other sources.


Amanda Frasier, 35, and her boyfriend, Shawn Stanford, 38, lived in a tent next to Moody for about four months before moving to Brunswick right after Christmas to live with Stanford’s mother, who needs live-in help.

Like Moody, they used propane and kerosene heaters to stay warm and relied on Nadeau to drive them to fill their tanks.

Stanford worked about 25 hours a week washing dishes at the same restaurant that employs Moody. Worried about the cold and snow coming, Frasier convinced Stanford to call his mother to see if they could stay with her in Brunswick, though Frasier acknowledges she and his mother don’t get along very well.

Together about five years, Frasier and Stanford had lived in an apartment in Fairfield before moving to the homeless encampment in Waterville. Kennebec Valley Community Action Program had helped subsidize their $750-a-month rent payments.

“Me and the landlord didn’t see eye to eye,” Frasier said. “The pipes burst and she blamed it on us, said it was our fault.”

Before they moved to Fairfield, they lived in Brunswick, where apartments are about $1,500 a month, Stanford and Frasier said. Stanford worked at delis there, including the one at Hannaford, he said.

Stanford grew up in Kansas and when he was in his mid-20s went to Indianapolis and Missouri.

Shawn Stanford and his girlfriend, Amanda Frasier, relax Jan. 4 at Stanford’s mother’s home in Brunswick. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“Mom lived in Maine to take care of grandma and after she passed away, she (mom) was in Brunswick.”

Frasier grew up in Fairfield, graduating from Lawrence High School in 2006. In Brunswick, she worked at Circle K and Cumberland Farms convenience stores.

The couple has been burglarized three times, losing clothes, battery packs, Frasier’s makeup and other things, so she didn’t work in order to stay in the tent to protect their belongings.

What they want most is their own apartment or home. Frasier has two daughters, 13 and 15, and if she and Stanford had their own place, they’d live with them, she said. The girls now stay with her mother.

A recovering drug addict, Frasier goes to a methadone clinic each day.

“I was five years clean and relapsed 10 months ago,” she said.


Townsend, Olson and Kilmurry reject the notion that people who are homeless don’t want to work or try to help themselves, with Kilmurry saying it is a complicated issue. Homelessness is not black and white, nor are the solutions, he said.

“We need many different tools and methods to help end homelessness, as the population has a vast array of needs,” he said. “Some people are just down on their luck and only need a small amount of help to get back on track. In contrast, others on the opposite side of the spectrum might have significant health issues, substance use disorders or other roadblocks keeping them from having a safe place to live.”

Olson, in Augusta, says the majority of homeless are people “just like you and I who hit one bump too many in the road.”

“Many I have spoken with over the years are working, college educated, retired, veterans or others on a pension or disability. For these ‘bump in the road’ types of situations, the paths to permanent housing can be shorter and clearer. For the smaller percentage with much more complex histories and challenges, the road can be painfully long, and these are the individuals we consider to be chronically homeless.”

Empathy, she said, isn’t putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, but finding the ability to first imagine being that other person, and then putting on their shoes.

“These are two very different perspectives, and the distinction is important,” she said. “The ‘just pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ rhetoric comes from the first, failed form of empathy. It assumes the person has all of the same life experience, knowledge, natural supports, life skills, privilege and confidence as you. From there, we don’t understand why they don’t ‘just go out and get a job.’ Being homeless places the human brain in survival mode where, out of necessity, the focus is on how to survive through the present day.”

Shane Moody, 41, washes dishes at a restaurant in downtown Waterville on Sept. 6. Moody is homeless and lives in a tent. He works around 40 hours a week and takes home less than $300 each week. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Olson said people who are homeless and unemployed or struggling to maintain employment while unhoused face difficult circumstances. Some employers require an address on a job application and as a result, homeless people are often unable to get a job without a home or a home without a job, she said. Still others don’t have reliable phones, which is an obstacle to obtaining and maintaining employment, she said.

Olson added that it’s “difficult-to-impossible” to improve one’s mental or overall health when homeless. This is why more innovative initiatives like the Housing First model that’s being adopted in Portland and other parts of the country need to be expanded to central Maine, she said. Housing First prioritizes providing permanent housing to the homeless rather than first requiring them to participate in a series of service programs.

“It is critical,” Olson said, “that we advance these supports outside of the Portland area to communities like Augusta that are in dire need of low-barrier supportive permanent housing for chronically homeless adults.”

For Moody, the 41-year-old who washes dishes at a Waterville restaurant, the cold of winter has driven him and dozens of others away from the encampment along the Kennebec River. He’s found temporary refuge at a condo in Fairfield belonging to his friend, Mary Nadeau.

“Thank God I have Mary,” Moody said. “She helps me out. She’s a lifeline for all of us.”

He will keep the tent pitched at the encampment in case he finds himself without a ride to or from work and needs a place to sleep. Nadeau’s 25-year-old Honda is in rough shape, so travel to work is anything but secure. He worries about being so far from work. Living within walking distance of his job has been critical.

But he had to go, for now.

“My hands are cold,” he said, looking at his fingers. “My hands turn purple when they’re cold.”

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