Community members stop into the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen to warm up and get lunch in November. Area business owners have expressed concerns that some soup kitchen guests have confronted local employees, who are afraid to come to work. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday approved giving the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen $50,000 of American Rescue Plan Act money, but required some be used to evaluate a security camera system after area businesses complained their employees are afraid of homeless people confronting them outside their buildings.

The soup kitchen had asked for $50,000 to help continue operations, and the council took a first vote March 7 to do that, but stipulated half be used for hiring someone to help with grant writing and fundraising to help keep the kitchen sustainable, and half be unrestricted funds.

On Tuesday, with the final vote in front of them, council members heard from people who said they support the soup kitchen’s mission but urged officials to do something about soup kitchen guests loitering and some of them confronting area workers.

Joe Corey, president of Day’s Jewelers said his office’s former location off The Concourse downtown had cameras all around it, and the criminal activity was much less there than it is at The Elm at 21 College Ave., where the corporate office is now located.

“We’re experiencing more criminal activity in the past six to eight months than we’ve ever seen on The Concourse above 88 Main St.,” Corey said, “and there’s no easy solution to any of this. I completely agree with that. We’re just simply looking for solutions to better protect our employees.”

Bill Mitchell, who owns The Elm building, said he believes the soup kitchen plays a vital role in the community, but he’s concerned some patrons are a nuisance and disrespectful, and they sometimes threaten employees of businesses. Mitchell proposed the council approve the $50,000 but with conditions, including that the kitchen develop a safety plan, assess its surveillance camera system and spend some money to help the police department watch the area.


Gregg Perkins, who owns an office building next to the soup kitchen, said he supports it but is concerned for his tenants’ safety and was seeking help and guidance as office tenants are being solicited and soup kitchen patrons are trying to sleep in his building.

Council Chairwoman Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, said she didn’t think spending money for what Mitchell proposed is in the spirit of supporting vulnerable people.

Councilor Brandon Gilley, D-Ward 1, said the council has discussed how to handle the homeless issue and food needs. But at the same time, he said people can’t be afraid to go to work.

“We represent everybody in the community,” Gilley said. “We can’t have people being afraid to go run errands at the post office. We’ve been inundated with emails in regard to the people that have issues going to and from work, and we got one from the postmaster today.”

But Councilor Flavia DeBrito, D-Ward 2, said without the soup kitchen, the people who eat there would be out on The Concourse, Two-Cent Bridge and other places they used to go before the kitchen opened.

“We don’t want them anywhere in the city, so where are we going to put them?” DeBrito said, insisting the kitchen is a critical resource.


Green said she questions those who say there is a direct, causal link between the soup kitchen and any activity that is causing people to be afraid.

“I have an email from the police chief that suggests a lot of the activity associated with The Elm has to do with neighbors next to them that have nothing to do with the soup kitchen,” she said.

She asked why the issue was suddenly coming up Tuesday as the council considered funding the soup kitchen, noting that she doesn’t believe the soup kitchen area is the only place where people are on the streets. The soup kitchen is doing a lot to help people get on a sustainable path to recovery, she said, and it’s worth supporting.

The Rev. Maureen Ausbrook, co-director of Starfish Village, which also helps people in need, said she comes and goes from her office in the basement of The Elm and has never had a problem. She doesn’t think the issue is the soup kitchen.

Carla Caron, president of the kitchen’s board of directors, said the organization files trespass notices against guests who behave inappropriately. Video cameras around the building help identify offenders.

Caron said she would help The Elm identify people taking part in criminal activity there. She doesn’t like to blow the whistle on anybody and has tried to explain to guests how they sometimes can be perceived by others, she said. While she’s not threatened by kitchen guests, she understands others might be.

“Five years ago I would have crossed the road to avoid a homeless person because I didn’t understand, and since then I run across the road to see how I can help them,” she said. “How we deliver a message is crucial to how they’re going to respond to what you’re asking them. I know it’s not easy, but they’re just people and they’re hurt people. And so a lot of the times what you see as confrontational is actually a defense to keep them at arm’s length because they’re afraid they’ll be rejected.”

Mayor Mike Morris said the matter was larger than could be solved in one night. A meeting will be held soon to try to identify solutions, and anyone may attend, he said.

The council decided to earmark up to $2,000 of the $25,000 it required be used for the soup kitchen’s capacity to assess its surveillance camera system.

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