WATERVILLE — As the temperatures dipped this week into the single digits, so, too, has the number of homeless people living in tents near the Kennebec River in Waterville.

But that number is a moving target, according to City Manager Bryan Kaenrath and Katie Spencer White, CEO of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter.

City and homeless shelter officials have been working together to help the unhoused connect with services and resources and find places to live, according to White and Kaenrath.

Officials in recent months have discussed setting up yurts for homeless people, but dropped the idea in favor of an emergency warming shelter and additional outreach efforts.

Kaenrath told the City Council on Tuesday that between 12 and 15 people were still living at Head of Falls, off Front Street — a number that earlier in the fall was between 40 and 50.

On Thursday, Kaenrath said the number of homeless living near the river seemed to have decreased to fewer than 10, but it can change daily.


Joshua Lukens, 24, left, and his fiancee, Tessa, 23, use an eight-person tent Oct. 18 to shelter themselves and their belongings along the Kennebec River, near Head of Falls, in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

Waterville police Chief William Bonney and fire Chief Shawn Esler have been working with homeless shelter staff members to meet one-on-one with those living in tents to help them connect with resources, Kaenrath told councilors Tuesday.

Temperatures have fallen to bone-chilling levels this week, hitting single digits Wednesday night and early Thursday.

“It is, at this point, in our view, not safe for them to be out there in this weather,” Kaenrath said. “The goal is to get them housed and to get them connected to services. I think we’re making some good progress. We’re having monthly meetings now hosted by the homeless shelter, with all community stakeholders or most of the community stakeholders.”

Kaenrath said organizers hope to expand the group in the near future, and are seeking to get everyone housed. An effort is also afoot, he said, to recruit volunteers to help staff a warming shelter that would be open during severe weather and be housed at the City Hall Annex at 46 Front St., which the city leases for council and Planning Poard meetings and other events.

Waterville City Manager Bryan Kaenrath Morning Sentinel file

He said about a dozen people have registered to become volunteers, who are to be trained by public safety officials. The first training session is planned for Saturday at 46 Front St.

“We’re putting out the call for volunteers,” Kaenrath said. “We need any and all hands on deck to help out with this.”


Those wanting to register to volunteer and train should contact Kaenrath at City Hall or Teresa Crawford at the fire station, he said.

“The training is five or six hours — just a one-day, one-time thing — and you can be trained and sort of certified to staff one of these warming shelters,” he said.

The city also is looking for funding to buy a generator to use at 46 Front St. if there is a power outage. Kaenrath said officials are checking if Kennebec County has American Rescue Plan Act money to pay for the generator.

White of the homeless shelter said Thursday that in addition to working with police and fire officials, the shelter also works with Kennebec Behavioral Health to do regular outreach to people who live outside. Officials meet weekly as a task force to monitor data and discuss how they can address additional needs and barriers to services, according to White.

White said the homeless shelter’s warming center opened Nov. 1, aiming to serve an additional 20 people per night during the winter months.

“Our top count has been 26 per night,” White wrote in an email, “and since Thanksgiving week, we have consistently been 22-plus people per night, and have served 66 unique individuals.”

The homeless shelter has 50 year-round beds.

Some of those people have been offered beds in the shelter’s year-round program, some have utilized the shelter’s diversion program and others have been able to stay with family or friends, according to White.

Asked if any people from the riverbank are now staying at the shelter, White said that once people become guests, the shelter must keep their information confidential.

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