The Green Street United Methodist Church building in Augusta, seen Friday, could be converted into a comprehensive facility to help homeless people. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — A new proposal could convert a large Green Street church building into a homeless shelter offering comprehensive services, including overnight shelter for up to 40 people and 16 longer-term supported housing units.

The proposed facility would provide at least two meals a day and connections to services meant to help people leave homelessness behind.

Advocates say the proposal, to purchase and convert the 17,000-square-foot Green Street United Methodist Church property into a nonprofit operation, would provide temporary and longer-term housing and other help to the growing number of people who are homeless. Supporters say the proposal would fill gaps for that vulnerable population, giving them opportunities to better their lives and, if they choose, escape homelessness.

“We hope by utilizing the services and opportunities we’d provide to them it will help them find a purpose, to move themselves forward,” said Betty St. Hilaire, a leader of the group that hopes to create the Green Street United Community Living Center. “We can’t do it for them. But we can do it with them. And we really strongly feel by improving the well-being of the most vulnerable people in our community we’ll really be lifting up the entire community. And that is our goal and our mission.”

For now, the project lacks funding to get started. Organizers plan to raise funds and seek grants, and said the supported housing units could be self-sustaining because the low-income tenants would be charged some rent and could also be eligible for subsidies.

The idea is also prompting some concerns about concentrating services offered to people who are homeless in the surrounding neighborhood, including the city’s nearby downtown, where the Bread of Life soup kitchen is located and where the Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center offers overnight housing a short distance away on State Street.


Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, left, speaks at an Augusta City Council event in 2020 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, after a presentation on the plan to councilors Thursday, said she agrees there is a dire need for housing and other services for people who are homeless. But she fears adding another entity offering services to unhoused people in such close proximity to those existing facilities could worsen problems. Downtown merchants and residents have previously said the increasing transient population is causing problems in that part of the city, including harassment of customers, begging and threatening behavior.

“It’s a fear of mine, that my neighborhood, and my downtown, will become the center of all things homeless, and that it’s not going to be evenly spread around the city and the burden will fall on a very few people and our downtown will become what it was before, because no one will go down there,” Conti said. “That seems unfortunate to me that all these services are going to be on that little block on Water Street and State Street in Augusta. Most people in the city may think that’s great, that’s the place for them to be, and maybe they’re right. I’m not saying I can’t be convinced of that. It’s a tough one, a tough situation. There’s no perfect answer and I just ask that people be mindful of all the users of that space.”

St. Hilaire and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins said they think that by providing a place for homeless people to stay, year round, unlike the winter-only Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center, the new facility would dramatically improve the situation downtown by taking people who are homeless off the streets.

Advocates hope the Green Street United Methodist Church building in Augusta, seen Friday, can be converted into a comprehensive facility to help homeless people. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I feel this is going to pull people off Water Street, when the warming center shuts down again, they’ve got someplace else to go,” Judkins said. “They’ll have really good services there they are going to want to access.”

The Green Street Methodist Church, built in 1828, is currently for sale. Members decided their shrinking congregation can no longer support, nor needs, such a large facility. Church leaders have said they hope the church would be purchased by an organization that would use it to help people who are unhoused, and thus embody the community spirit shown by the church in a new way.

The church property was listed for sale with an asking price of $985,000. Judkins, a real estate broker, is working with the church to sell the property.


St. Hilaire said the group behind the proposal hopes to be able to purchase the building within the next six months. She said the church would require minimal renovations because the building is in great shape and already accessible to people with disabilities; already has a fire sprinkler system; and has a commercial kitchen where meals could be prepared for residents and where residents could learn about cooking and nutrition.

The Green Street United Methodist Church building in Augusta, seen Friday, could be converted into a comprehensive facility to help homeless people if advocates have their way. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

St. Hilaire, who was also involved in starting the Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center, said the new organization is seeking nonprofit status. Until it obtains that, donations to the project can be made through the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta, which will serve as its fiscal agent.

She said members of the group behind the proposal are experienced at fundraising. She said they plan to coordinate with other service providers in the community to ensure they do not duplicate services and can fill gaps that are not currently meeting the need. Those service providers include Bread of Life Ministries, which operates homeless shelters for families and veterans in Augusta, and Bridging the Gap, which runs a daytime warming center and helps people who are homeless connect with services in Augusta.

She said it would be a low-barrier shelter, meaning it would take in people with criminal records, or who are actively using drugs, or who have untreated mental health conditions, as long as those people do not pose a risk to others and do not bring weapons or drugs onto the property.

The facility would be staffed by community health workers who could either provide services or refer people to services already being provided elsewhere in the community. She said workers would ask what services people who are homeless need, and seek to provide those services. She said those could include education, help obtaining jobs, drug and alcohol recovery, and mental health treatment.

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