Kerri Coderre, 41, holds her 4-month-old kitten, Oreo, at a homeless encampment where she lives off Front Street in Waterville on Sunday. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

I got to thinking — now that we’re in the thick of the holiday season — what the homeless people living along the riverbank would want for Christmas.

So on Sunday, I drove to Head of Falls off Front Street in Waterville, where about 50 people live in tents in an open area overlooking the Kennebec River, as well as along a trail that winds north through the woods.

It was windy, but the sun afforded at least some warmth to an otherwise chilly morning as Kerri Coderre emerged from her tent. I met her last summer at the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen on College Avenue where she volunteers behind the bar, serving hot and cold beverages and food.

Coderre has been living on the riverfront with her boyfriend of 11 years since May when they lost their nearby apartment because their roommates didn’t pay their share of rent and they were evicted.

“Some people here have lost their housing, some people are addicts, some people’s spouses died and they didn’t have a place to live,” she said of her neighbors. “Some do have jobs — it’s just, this is where they’ve landed.”

Coderre and her boyfriend worked jobs in restaurants off and on and then got into a tough financial spot. A graduate of Lawrence High School in Fairfield, she lived in Brockton, Massachusetts, until she was 12, she said.


“My sister went to live with our grandmother and I lived with a friend’s family and then moved to Maine to live with my aunt and uncle.”

Coderre later had a son and daughter, but her relationship with their father didn’t last and he moved with the children to Florida. It has been a struggle since.

We got to talking about Christmas and what she and her homeless neighbors need. Besides the obvious, warm places to live, Coderre said what they need most are Little Buddy heaters that can be purchased at Walmart and require small green propane tanks that cost about $5 each. Those would go a long way toward helping people keep warm in their tents. Larger heaters cost between $90 and $110 and use two tanks, but they would help heat bigger tents that house multiple people, she said.

“I know we need water to drink,” Coderre said. “And Jackery mini-generators that are rechargeable so we can charge our phones. We get kicked out of some businesses when we charge them because they don’t want homeless people in there.”

All-season or three-season tents that are waterproof also would make a difference when the temperatures dip into the 20s as they did last Saturday night, she said. Batteries — AA, AAA, C and D — are needed for flashlights and radios.

People have been generous, bringing food and sandwiches to the homeless encampment,  Coderre said.


“Portland Pie had pizzas leftover when they closed last night and they brought 12 pizzas down and they were still hot,” she said. “That was nice of them.”

A woman named Pam visits every couple of days, bringing sandwiches and other food.

“She calls me and my boyfriend the mom and pop of the tent area,” Coderre said. “She knows people ask me for help if they need anything. If she isn’t able to come every time and leaves extra food and sandwiches, people say I hoard them but I don’t. I ration it out to make sure they get enough.”

At a recent community cleanup event, Waterville police Chief Bill Bonney brought his wife and son to help, according to Coderre.

“Some people bring their kids down to show them we’re not bad people, we’re just in a different circumstance,” she said. “After we finished the cleanup, Bill bought pizza for everybody that helped. It was appreciated and we thanked him for it. He didn’t have to do that.”

Todd Stevens, the Police Department’s community outreach coordinator, also looks out for the homeless, she said.


“He helps us a lot,” Coderre said of Stevens. “He brought us water and pallets to put tents on because it gets wet and muddy. He comes down and checks on us.”

Prodded further about what she and others could use for Christmas, Coderre said gift cards are always helpful.

“They could be for Hannaford or Dunkin’ Donuts — somewhere to eat and get a warm meal. Anything, actually — from any store around here.”

Coderre said she and Carla Caron, who runs the soup kitchen, dream about having enough money to turn the vacant former Boys & Girls Club building behind the soup kitchen into housing for the homeless that includes a recovery component.

“There could be one person on staff who would be able to help us out if we need someone to talk to or if someone has substance abuse issues,” Coderre said. “Even if we had one-room efficiencies and a community shower. Why not do something like that? At least we’d have a roof over our heads.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here weekly. She is the author of the book “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published this year by Islandport Press. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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