AUGUSTA — In response to residents and merchants who have said they feel unsafe, city councilors have agreed to extend stepped-up police patrols in downtown Augusta.

Councilors expressed support Thursday for a recommendation from City Manager Susan Robertson to use $114,000 from the city’s remaining COVID-19 pandemic relief funding to cover increased overtime for more downtown police patrols.

The increased patrols, which began earlier this summer after downtown residents and merchants raised concerns about feeling unsafe near their home or business, are to be extended from Nov. 1 to June 30.

Some merchants and residents have said they feel threatened by what they say is an increasing number of  aggressive homeless people on Water Street.

Councilors also discussed but took no action on a proposal to use some of the city’s remaining $521,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to help fund the second year of operations of the Augusta Overnight Emergency Center, which provides the area’s homeless people a place to sleep in winter.

Councilors said they would support the city providing between $125,000 and $179,000 to help fund the center’s operations this winter, but they first want to see if the center can obtain MaineHousing grant funding to help cover its costs.


Richard Parkhurst, who with other members of his family owns multiple buildings in downtown Augusta, said city officials must take action and provide more police protection in the downtown area, where increasingly aggressive homeless people are making it potentially unsafe.

Parkhurst said his daughter, Soo Parkhurst, who owns buildings into which she has invested large amounts of money on the north end of downtown Augusta, near the long-operating Bread of Life Ministries Soup Kitchen, has been threatened multiple times and had others tamper with her car. Parkhurst said his daughter is afraid to go home by herself at night. He also said officials with Bread of Life Ministries have told him what takes place outside their building is not their problem.

“The dynamics are changing. Homeless people are more threatening now. Homeless people are more aggressive,” Richard Parkhurst said at Thursday’s City Council meeting. “For someone to threaten to throw hot coffee in your face because you want to enter your own building, it’s wrong. And somebody needs to do something about it, and soon, before somebody gets very hurt. It’s just a matter of time.”

Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said the increased police patrols in the downtown area have helped reduce some of the problems about which residents and merchants complained to councilors in July. The problems include littering, open use of illegal drugs and begging. Hall said he expects the number of homeless people in Augusta could increase this winter.

“As you know, there are a lot of camps being taken down in Portland and Bangor, and we’re expecting even more of an influx throughout the winter of different people,” he said. “We want to make sure they’re safe and that our downtown businesses can function as well. We want to have a way to coexist, and the community policing that we’ve had out there has worked wonders for the downtown.”

Chief Jared Mills of the Augusta Police Department, who is also assistant city manager, said when police began increasing patrols in the downtown area, they focused on the southern end of Water Street. Officers have now shifted their focus to the northern end of Water Street in response to problems in that area.


The proposal will likely go to councilors for a vote at their next business meeting.

Councilors also expressed support for providing some level of funding — also with remaining ARPA money — to help reopen the Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center for a second year to provide a warm place for the homeless to spend nights this winter. Councilors, however, instructed Robertson not to bring the item up for a council vote until more information is known about the center’s prospects for obtaining a grant from MaineHousing to operate this winter.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins, who worked previously at MaineHousing, suggested councilors wait before committing city funds to the overnight shelter because MaineHousing is about to release information about a grant program that could help fund the center.

In response to the city’s request for proposals, officials at South Parish Congregational Church at 9 Church St., which last year hosted the warming center at its building at the corner of Bridge and State streets, submitted two proposals to the city: One to operate the warming center for six months and the other to operate for seven months, as the city had requested. The church’s proposals were the only two submitted in response to Augusta’s request for proposals.

Robertson said the proposal to keep the warming center open for six months would cost $202,000 for the winter, with $148,000 of that amount coming from the city and the rest from other sources. The seven-month proposal would cost $232,000, with the city providing $179,000.

Julia Stone, director of the Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center, said the budget for the center has increased this year compared to last year, the center’s first year. She said the major reasons for the increase are those running the center now have a year of experience and have a better idea of what their expenses will be. She said usage of the center last year was much greater than projected.

Stone said officials last year anticipated about 20 people a night would stay at the center, but the facility consistently housed 30 to 40 people — or more — a night, requiring additional staff members and more money.

She said the center was able to stay open for the entire winter because it received midseason grant funding from MaineHousing.

At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen assured warming center officials the city stands ready to support and fund the center, if needed, once officials learn more about other grant funding to help with costs.

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