The Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center on the Bridge Street side of the South Parish Congregational Church in Augusta is open each night from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — A nearly $400,000 grant to the Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center will fund building improvements needed to allow it to continue providing shelter to people who otherwise have none.

The grant, part of $16.3 million in homeless shelter and housing support grants statewide recently awarded by MaineHousing, will fund upgrades to the center’s space, which is located within the South Parish Congregational Church property in Augusta

The homeless shelter opened in November for the first time, despite the building not fully meeting all building life safety and fire code requirements.

City and state officials agreed to allow the center to open despite lacking a sprinkler system and other code-required items so it could fill the growing need for a warm place for homeless people to stay overnight in the cold winter months, as long as they took precautionary measures, such as ensuring all staff were trained in fire safety. The agreement gave the church time to address the code issues.

Now, officials say the grant funds will provide the money to pay for them.

Facility work to be paid for with the funds is expected to include the installation of a sprinkler system and road work needed to bring a connection to that system in from the street. Other planned improvements include seven fire doors, new windows, a walkway accessible for people with disabilities, a new entrance door, a bathroom ceiling vent, installation of an exit sign and lighting, and installation of an alarm system connected to the city’s central fire station.


Julia Stone, director of the Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center, said most of the work will happen over the summer, although some projects such as the sprinkler system may take longer to complete.

“This gives us an opportunity to put in a lot of the building code specifications we didn’t have at the beginning, so we can continue and open again next season,” Stone said of plans for the MaineHousing funding.

She said state and city officials, including Rob Overton, the city’s director of code enforcement, “has been amazing, very patient, as long as we could show we’re working toward those things. So we took the opportunity to get the funding while we could to satisfy those expectations he outlined.”

The center has been busy, averaging around 35 guests a night, with the highest single-night total 43 people. Last month it provided 965 “bed nights,” meaning a bed for a night for one person. That month the center hosted 80 different individuals for at least one night, though many of them were regulars who returned nightly.

The center, meant to provide warm overnight space for the winter, is scheduled to close for the season April 30.

To help the many homeless people who’ll then be without the option of staying at the center, Stone said they plan to use some of the grant funds to buy tents, flashlights, sleeping bags, first aid kits and other items to give to people to help them get through the time period when the center will be closed.


Stone said they also plan to use grant funds to purchase a van, to provide transportation for instances when, as happened during a cold snap last year, guests needed rides to a day shelter at the Augusta Civic Center the city opened temporarily.

MaineHousing officials said funding for the grant program comes from Gov. Janet Mills’ Winter Emergency Energy Relief Plan, passed by the state Legislature in January.

Mills, in a news release announcing the grant awards, said that through the program “we are delivering crucial funding to help protect our most vulnerable, both in the short-term during the cold winter months and, now, over the longer-term to provide support and stability for people and families.”

Bridging the Gap, a day shelter space also in Augusta, also received $76,000 through the grant program.

And $696,000 was awarded to the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville to create an additional 18 emergency shelter beds.

The $393,000 grant is the second the South Parish Congregational Church in Augusta has received from MaineHousing for its efforts with the warming center. A previous grant provided $136,700 and allowed additional staff to be hired, to address the higher-than-expected demand. It also allowed the center to extend its hours, from the initial 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., to instead opening at 5 p.m.

A “stuff the tent” event is planned at the church on Saturday, April 22, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with monetary donations accepted, as well as donations of items that could be used by shelter guests to get through the time period when it will be closed. The center also lists, on a weekly basis on its Facebook page, items of need, such as food, laundry detergent, batteries, trash bags and toilet paper. Donors are asked to call 622-0552, or email, before dropping off donations.

Stone said the center’s first season has been successful, with no major incidents that were difficult to manage.

“This center has been blessed in so many wonderful ways from the community support,” Stone said, “whether it be donations or other organizations offering our guests breakfast each Saturday morning, to shower use at the YMCA every Sunday, to the incredible team members that show up each and every night with compassionate and open hearts.”

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.