AUGUSTA — A new city task force will be charged with coming up with a strategic plan in the next seven months to organize uncoordinated efforts to help people who are homeless in Augusta.

City councilors approved the proposal unanimously Thursday night and approved $20,000 toward the cost of hiring a facilitator to oversee the group’s efforts. Councilors said the group could provide much-needed help improving the efficiency and delivery of services, including housing, to homeless people. And the group could coordinate disparate groups and individuals working to help address the ongoing challenges of homelessness, both for people who are unhoused and businesses and residents who’ve complained to city officials that the homeless population is causing problems in the city.

Augusta City Councilor Eric Lind of Ward 4 speaks Jan. 21 during an Augusta City Council goal-setting session. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

“I lot of good people are doing very good work, saving lives in this city,” said Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind. “But there are gaps here and there, where we could do better. They’re all very stressed, all very concerned, but they’re in their own lanes. I think looking at it from a strategic view is a very good idea. Whether it’s $10,000 or $20,000, or whatever we do, it’s a very small investment. That will help everybody, it will lift everybody up, like a rising tide.”

The proposal was brought to councilors by Wick Johnson, a prominent former businessman in Augusta. He said something must be done to address the homelessness situation in Augusta, where a proposal last year to turn a Green Street church into a homeless shelter providing comprehensive services to the homeless was stymied when it was rejected by the Planning Board after many residents and business owners expressed opposition.

Johnson, a leader of efforts to raise funds and triple the size of Augusta’s Lithgow Library, said it took some 15 years to get that much-needed project done, but said it finally happened because the community came together for it. He said the same thing needs to happen to address homelessness.

He suggested hiring Amanda Bartlett, an Augusta resident, housing consultant with Developers Collaborative and former executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, to facilitate a new task force. It would include city officials, stakeholders, community members and leaders of organizations working with homeless people in the Augusta area.


Bartlett said she envisions a seven-month process that would take an inventory of current services, identify gaps, develop a sustainable service and housing plan, recommend short-, medium- and long-term strategies and identify potential funding sources. The end goal of the proposal would be creating “a strategic plan to improve the unhoused situation in the greater Augusta area.”

That plan, the draft proposal states, would be shared with the city, Kennebec County, Maine State Housing Authority and state Department of Health and Human Services.

Mayor Mark O’Brien said the group could include members from other area communities, and said he’d discussed the idea of the group with the mayor of Hallowell.  O’Brien also said the idea is an offshoot of discussion they’ve had with Jacqui Clark, a Hallowell resident who works with others to help homeless people in the Augusta area, who urged the city to take more of a leadership role in coordinating services for people who are unhoused.

Johnson said the cost of the project, with Bartlett facilitating it through Developers Collaborative, is expected to be about $45,000.

He initially sought $10,000 from the city and said he’ll kick in $5,000 himself. Johnson said the United Community Living Center, the group behind the so-far failed effort to convert the Green Street United Methodist Church into a comprehensive homeless shelter with 40 overnight beds, was committed to contribute $5,000. He said they’d work to fundraise the rest.

City councilors instead agreed the city should up its contribution, eventually settling on $20,000. Of that, $10,000 would come from a city council contingency account, and $10,000 would come from the city’s share of funds received in a state settlement with pharmaceutical companies which distributed highly-addictive opiates.

Johnson said it’s crucial that key players in the city also step up to donate the remaining needed funds to show their support for the effort.

Councilors added the funding proposal to their agenda during their Thursday night meeting, suspending the rules, which is allowed when items are deemed an emergency, so they could vote on it Thursday. They unanimously approved the use of the contingency funds before the close of the current fiscal year, which ends Monday.

“We as a city have been in a position where we have been reactive most of the time, we have had to clean up encampments, had police go and do checks, had our staff in (General Assistance) doing a lot of work trying to get people into housing,” said At-Large Councilor Stephanie Sienkiewicz. “So to me spending money intentionally, that is proactive and will give us a plan instead of having to be reactive, is one of the best ways we could spend our resources.”

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