Volunteer Betty St. Hilaire stacks donations Saturday during the “Stuff the Tent” event to support the Augusta Emergency Overnight Warming Center at South Parish Congregational Church at 9 Church St. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Community advocates hosted a “Stuff the Tent” event Saturday to bolster ongoing efforts of support for the city’s homeless population as the warming center prepares to close its doors for the season.

The “Stuff the Tent” event was sponsored by the Augusta Emergency Overnight Warming Center — A mission of South Parish Congregational Church. The warming center started in November in the bottom level of the church at 9 Church St. and was supported with American Rescue Plan Act funds. Under the grant, the shelter was slated to last for 180 days, through the cold months, Nov. 1 to April 30.

To help people who utilize the warming center, tents, sleeping bags, clothes and other items needed to survive were collected and will be distributed to those who need them through the spring and summer.

By 11 a.m., a number of sleeping bags were collected, as well as $100 in donations.

Director Julia Stone said the warming center met more needs for the homeless population than just offering a place to stay at night, and moving into the warmer months without the shelter will strip them of other resources the center provided.

“The temperature is the biggest thing of course and was everyone’s No. 1 fear,” Stone said. “However, we learned this season that there is a host of issues that come with being unhoused. Sometimes we have people who come in with open wounds, and are in active addiction, or don’t have access to a shower or food.”


The warming center served as a “low barrier” shelter for people in the community who needed a place to stay at night. A low-barrier shelter is a type of homeless shelter where anyone over the age of 18 can show up, without needing a background check. While those who show up can be under the influence of drugs, they cannot use drugs on the premise.

Doris McKechnie, a former guest of the Augusta Emergency Overnight Warming Center, speaks about her experience Saturday during a “Stuff the Tent” collection event at the center at South Parish Congregational Church, 9 Church St. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

A low-barrier shelter serves as a way to provide a place for people to stay, regardless of their situation.

“We still let people come in if they are in active addiction — just because they are in an addiction doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a place to stay,” said Stone, who estimates around 45 people would regularly stay over at the center and range in age from around 35 to 60.

Stone and other members of the community, including Bobby-Jo Bechard, the director of the LINC Wellness and Recovery Center, plan to pass out the sleeping bags and tents to those in need. Bechard’s program would often serve as a place for homeless people to go during the day, when they are not at the warming center, to access recovery programs, career help and even a warm shower. Bechard estimates around 30 to 60 people visit LINC daily and said they see “new faces” all the time.

The LINC Wellness and Recovery Center, located at 38 Memorial Drive, will continue to be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

As Bechard pointed out, the warming center is not just a great place for people to stay out of the cold overnight, but can provide people a place to stay while they save up for their own apartments or spaces, like Doris McKechnie did.


McKechnie started staying over at the warming center in November with her dog, Gizmo. It provided her safety until she found a stable place of her own. Now that she has her own place, she donates to the center to show her gratitude.

“It’s great for when people need something,” she said.

And even with the efforts from the community to help provide supplies and spaces for people to stay, the advocates say there is still more work to be done. It starts, Bechard said, by “not judging people,” and “helping and support when they can.”

Beth Sirabella, a volunteer at the warming center, offered another option for city leaders and others to consider: “It would be great to have land that is privately owned where they could set up their tents, but also, by installing a dumpster and porta-potties” it could model a campground situation where whatever “you bring in, you bring out.”

Anyone who missed Saturday’s event can still donate by contacting the center at 207-622-0552 or southparishwarmingcenter@gmail.com.


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