A sign listing items needed by the Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center is seen Oct. 26, 2022, during a tour of the shelter at South Parish Congregational Church. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — Most members of the City Council support using a portion of Augusta’s remaining federal pandemic relief money to again help fund an overnight winter warming center to temporarily house local people who are homeless.

Some councilors said what Augusta really needs is a full-time, year-round homeless shelter that is not paid for by the city. Absent that, a majority of councilors agreed they would support the current proposal to use some of the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide a low-barrier, overnight warming center.

As was done last year for the first time in Augusta, the funding supported the shelter where homeless people could spend the night during the winter months.

“The intent behind this warming center, it’s clear in my mind, is to save people, to keep people from freezing to death,” said Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind. “You can’t get rehabilitation for people, you can’t get them jobs, if they, frankly, are dead.”

The city has about $321,000 in ARPA funds remaining from the nearly $2 million it received over two years, according to Susan Robertson, Augusta’s city manager.

Robertson recommended to councilors at their Thursday meeting the city again use some of its ARPA funding to help pay for an emergency overnight warming center. Robertson, however, did not recommend a specific amount, instead suggesting the city seek proposals from groups capable of providing and overseeing an overnight shelter for the coming winter, and then determine how much city funding to make available.


The Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center opened for the first time last winter using $124,000 in ARPA funding from the city and a $30,000 grant from the United Way of Kennebec Valley. It was located at and run by the South Parish Congregational Church, which was the only entity to submit a proposal to do so.

Betty St. Hilaire, chairwoman of the advisory committee to the overnight warming center, thanked councilors for the city’s past support and said financial help from the city would allow the warming center to bring on staff members for the coming winter.

“The support we were given last year was vital to us being open,” St. Hilaire said. “The support this year will really put us over the finish line with staffing. We applied for and received some additional funding. But that is, this year, being used for the building, to get everything up to code and everything to where it needs to be. Hopefully in the future, those funds will go elsewhere and the burden on the city will be less.”

People wait in a downpour Nov. 30, 2022, to get shelter inside the South Parish Congregational Church in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

The warming center won a nearly $400,000 grant earlier this year to make building improvements to allow its location to continue providing shelter for those who have none. The grant, awarded through a MaineHousing program for homeless shelters and housing support, will allow a sprinkler system and other code-required items to be installed.

A previous grant provided $136,700 and allowed additional staff members to be hired to address the greater-than-expected demand. The grant also allowed the center to extend its hours from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., to, instead, open at 5 p.m.

Last winter, the center saw an average of 35 guests a night, with as many as 43 people some nights. It provided up to 965 “bed nights,” or a bed for a night for one person.


Robertson said she has had discussions with the director of the center, Julia Stone, to consider expanding the time period the winter overnight shelter would be open, so it would be available from Oct. 15 to May 15, instead of the previous Nov. 1 to April 30. Robertson said there are often freezing nights outside of the dates the center was open last winter.

Homeless people gather Nov. 1, 2022, beneath the World War I statue at Memorial Circle in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

Multiple councilors said Augusta needs a full-time, year-round homeless shelter. But they and Robertson noted the city would need partners to provide such a facility because the city does not have the money or staffing.

They said there have been tensions in the summer months, when the winter overnight center has been closed, involving downtown business owners or residents and the homeless, who sleep and ask for money in the downtown area.

“We’ve seen the play-out of what happens in the summer months, when folks don’t have a low-barrier shelter to be in,” said At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen. “We’re going to see the same thing play out next year: Tension between folks who are unhoused and people who live downtown and have businesses downtown.

“We need a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, 365-days-a-year place for people who are unhoused, so we can meet the needs of the unhoused, and also the people who want to enjoy their way of life in the city of Augusta.”

Robertson said the city’s request for proposals would describe the overnight warming center services the city is seeking from a partner, and anticipates groups that submit a proposal would describe how they would provide those services and other potential funding sources.

She would then make a recommendation to city councilors on which, if any, should be funded.

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