AUGUSTA — City officials are considering providing disposal containers for used hypodermic needles, adding trash cans and cleaning portable toilets more often at Mill Park to help address concerns about homeless encampments in that area.

Long-term solutions to the increase locally in the number of people who are homeless, however, appear harder to come by, according to service providers, city officials, those who run homeless shelters and formerly homeless residents who participated in a wide-ranging discussion at a recent Augusta City Council meeting.

The conversation began after Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins suggested the city should add more trash cans, bring in receptacles for bottles and cans and provide “sharps” containers into which used needles — mostly from intravenous drug users — could be placed, instead of being left in portable bathrooms and other public areas.

Judkins also said the portable toilets at Mill Park are often overflowing.

Judkins urged the city revisit his previous suggestion to provide a place where homeless people could camp temporarily until better options come along, such as the low-barrier shelter that Bread of Life Ministries officials plan to build.

Earl Kingsbury, community services director for Augusta, said the city could easily add more trash cans at Mill Park, and already plans to have the portable bathrooms there emptied more frequently — increasing from once to three times a week — beginning next week.


But, he said, the city needs to strike a balance. He said he has heard from business owners and residents with concerns about the increasing presence of homeless people in the city. He has also heard from people who want to help.

Trauma, mental illness and substance abuse all contribute to people not being able to secure housing. Kingsbury said using case management to help people address these issues is the best way forward. In the meantime, the city and several partner agencies are taking steps to help.

“Some are ready for help, looking for help, but some aren’t ready for help yet, for various reasons,” Kingsbury said at the City Council meeting last Thursday. “But that doesn’t mean we can just turn a blind eye. I still believe the way out of homelessness is through case management, into shelter, and then into housing. We don’t want to enable dependency. We want to help these folks get out of homelessness.”

Resident Katie Morin, who said she and her children have previously been homeless in the area, urged officials to listen to homeless people, and said case management is not a cure-all or a good fit for everyone. She said to some, case management is a person in power “telling me what’s good for me and my family.”

“That doesn’t work for me,” Morin said, “and it doesn’t work for many of the unhoused folks I see every day.”

She added: “It’s not impossible for us to figure a way out of this or through this. I don’t think the recognition of a solution matters. It’s just a matter of somebody feeling like they matter and are safe and can find a way to eventually learn how to find a way to take care of themselves. There is something severely inhumane about many of the systems we have. And we just turn a blind eye to it and act like everything is OK. It’s not.”


Nicole Mullens, senior general assistance caseworker for the city, said Augusta is seeing many homeless people with needs beyond the city’s scope. City officials, however, do their best to help the homeless get the services they need, she said.

Mullens said a big need is supported, transitional housing in the area, which need be staffed seven days a week and around the clock. She said that level of oversight could help provide people in need of housing with daily living skills they need to find — and keep — stable housing.

She said some general assistance applicants come back repeatedly after losing their housing because they have damaged property or done something else that caused them to be evicted.

Judkins said Augusta police last Thursday morning removed a homeless encampment from Mill Park that reportedly included “a few bad actors.” He said he understands the police were respectful, but the action meant those staying there were on the move and in need of a place to sleep at night.

Marshall Mercer, executive director of the nonprofit recovery organization Hope Brokers, said to help homeless people, officials must listen to them.

“We are all together in this fight. If you keep talking like it’s us and them, that’s how it will be — us and them,” said Mercer, who used to be homeless. “We need to be at the table, if you’re going to get any further. They’re willing to help themselves, but nobody wants to talk to them. We don’t want to die. We don’t want to live in the streets. We want help from our community.”

City Manager Susan Robertson said she and city staff members plan to recommend Augusta again use money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to help fund the Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center, which opened for the first time last winter at  South Parish Congregational Church at 9 Church St., so it can provide a safe, warm place next winter for homeless people to spend the night.

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