A place for those in need
“For a single parent and a child to afford a basic apartment and a basic car, that parent needs to be making between 11 and 12 dollars an hour, 40 hours a week. But in Maine, countless single parents are only making minimum wage,” Executive Director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter Betty Palmer said. As a result, many Mainers don’t have a place to sleep.
Every night at 6 o’clock, people from all around the state of Maine find their way to the open doors of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville, the only homeless shelter between Waterville and the Canadian border. The shelter is open to anyone and employees admit guests on a first come, first serve basis.
When guests arrive, they eat a hot meal that volunteers at the shelter have cooked. They then sit down for one-on-one conversations with counselors. During these conversations, they talk about their day, the circumstances behind their individual battle with homelessness and their goals for the future.
“If you only get a hot meal, a pair of jeans and a coat to be warm and nobody ever talks to you about the things that need to be readjusted in your life, then you continue to be chronically homeless,” Palmer explained.
After their meetings, guests have time to relax before they go to bed. Come 7 a.m. the next morning, guests receive a hot breakfast and head off to work or follow through with plans they established with their counselors.
Individuals that lack the natural support system of a family are most susceptible to chronic homelessness. “I think people would be shocked to see how many kids come to the shelter,” Palmer said. Ranging from straight-A high school students who can no longer stay in the foster care system to hard-working single mothers supporting three or four children on their own, the faces at the shelter change every day; however, the problems remain the same.
“Everyone [who] is homeless is not homeless because they are not trying,” Palmer said. “Sometimes circumstances are just so broken that you need somebody to help you try.”
The Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter maintains connections with agencies and landlords around the community that can help Mainers find substantial and sustainable ways of living. “If it’s already being done in the community, then we don’t reinvent the wheel here,” Palmer said. The resource management team at the shelter helps guests get in contact with literacy tutors, adult education courses and budgeting and low-income housing programs so as to give chronically homeless Mainers the life skills they need.
“When a community pulls together, there are enough resources within the community to solve the challenges of homelessness,” Palmer said. “The only things that stand in the way are the economics, stereotypes and greed behind it all. Too often people only see the small number of individuals [who] abuse social systems and ignore the multitudes of folks that have used the system to change their lives.”
Every night, the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter turns down families because their 18 beds and two family units are simply not enough to support all the needy individuals who show up at the center. The shelter encourages students and citizens of the Waterville community to help out at the shelter in any way they can.
According to Palmer, “There’s something you can do today. Whether it’s donate a blanket, cook an apple pie, play with a child, donate a dollar or make a new friend, the face of homelessness will be changed because you made a decision to do something today.”