Since I’ve started work here at the shelter, I am always surprised by the conversations I have with donors and volunteers. So many in our community are unaware of the range of services we offer here at the shelter. Many folks know we offer overnight shelter to the homeless, but don’t really know what that means and think we are a sort of ‘free hotel’ where a body can come in and sleep out of the weather. This shelter is so much more than that.
When a guest comes to the shelter, it is generally as a last resort because they have nowhere else to go. We offer them more than a bed, we offer them hope to rise beyond their present circumstances and a step towards a more stable life. Each guest of the shelter is assigned to work with a shelter aide who will help them access the services they need to become permanently housed. In a few cases, this may mean a bus ticket ‘home’ to reconnect with family or friends where they will have a secure place to live. In other cases, it’s not quite as simple. We hosted 398 overnight guest last year with 85% of the homeless we’ve housed coming from right here in Maine.
Some of our guests are recovering from substance abuse, have mental health needs, or are fleeing an abusive relationship. Others have suffered a financial crisis. They may be working but aren’t earning enough to keep all the bills paid, living just one paycheck away from disaster. In each case, we help connect guests with the services they need. It may be identification, a mental health counselor, a doctor, career services, or just someone who will listen to them. We helped over 95 individuals attain permanent housing last year and we are always available to them, doing what we can to make sure they can stay housed.
In addition to the work we do with our overnight guest, we host a variety of day services. These services are not limited to our overnight guests. People are welcome to come in to grab a hot drink and a snack, use the phone, send a fax, have a hot meal as part of our daily soup kitchen, or just read the paper, get warm and have a chat with other people so they aren’t so isolated. We served over 8,800 meals in our soup kitchen last year.
Twice a week, we host a food pantry. In addition to the food families receive, they can request personal care products that their budget or SNAP benefits won’t cover. For some, being able to access personal care items might mean they can afford to pay a bill that they otherwise wouldn’t have the money to cover. We served close to 350 households last year in our food pantry.
We host a counselor from Rape Response Services who is available to meet with guest who have traumatic issues they want to discuss with someone. Her services are a great addition to the shelter especially for guest who would not be likely to go seek out those services. The shelter is also host to an AA meeting which is open to the public on Friday mornings, a creative writing group to help guest articulate some of the emotions they are experiencing, an occupational therapy group that helps guests alleviate stress, and a dual diagnosis group for those suffering from addiction along with some underlying mental health issues.
Whew, that’s a lot of stuff we offer, not to mention the area agencies we partner with for other services. There are a lot more items on our list and while they are relatively small services, they are ones our guests couldn’t do without. Things like bus tickets, laundry, taxi and clothing vouchers, and my favorite; small household items to give those moving into permanent housing a bit of a start in their new home. A lot happens in that little building on Main St. with only 38 beds. But it’s the heart and willingness to help that our shelter staff and volunteers give every day that allows us to accomplish all we do in the space we have. I hope I’ve inspired some of you to come be a part of what we do. Give me a call and ask me how. Until next time; Diane Crockett