The many roles of the Shelter
Betty Palmer is the director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, where she works to get residents back on their feet.
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The Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter (MMHS), located on Ticonic Street in downtown Waterville, is more than just a bed for the night. The staff at MMHS helps house residents rebuild their lives, a concept so important that the staff chose it as the name of their campaign to build a new facility: Breaking Ground, Rebuilding Lives.
The Shelter has already come a long way with the services it offers to homeless residents and the hopeful atmosphere it aims to provide. Colby Volunteer Center (CVC) Director Dana Roberts ’12 praised the MMHS director, Betty Palmer, saying Palmer “has transformed this place. There’s so much more love inside the Shelter and caring for the individuals and trying to create this place as a home instead of as a transitional shelter.”
Palmer came to the Shelter after having been a pastor for 16 years with the United Methodist Church. She also founded the Waterville Area Homeless Action Group, which worked with the Shelter to mentor homeless families and move them into new homes. “For me it’s more than just a job, it’s a call. It’s a vocation,” Palmer said.
Palmer’s dedication has transformed the Shelter from merely a nightly safe haven to a rehabilitation center for individuals and families. Palmer and her staff work with residents to form and execute plans to make permanent changes in order to find a home and create stable lives for themselves. “Within the first three days that people are here, we begin to develop their plan,” Palmer said. “Day three it’s time to talk about how you’re going leave and not come back.”
Because of the limited space at the Shelter, priority is given to those who are interested in developing a plan. “[Shelter residents stay] 30 to 45 days if they’re working on a plan. If they don’t want to make a permanent change in their life...then they stay five to seven days,” Palmer explained. “We no longer want to be just an emergency shelter. We want to help people rebuild lives.”
The basis of the life plan is for residents to pinpoint the areas in their life where they need the most help and have the most room for improvement. “It’s about setting goals,” Palmer continued.
Whether it is find ing work, learning how to budget, getting sober, finishing high school or going to college, the Shelter helps residents to make connections and find the right programs or to find out what level of work or schooling they qualify for. “It’s not that we created a new program....We found people in the community—people who host these sort of programs already,” Palmer said.
MMHS helps residents get in touch with resources that already exist in Waterville or the surrounding communities such as parenting classes, support groups and budget counseling. At the new facility, Palmer hopes to be able to bring these programs into MMHS—whether through visiting programmers or doing webinars—so that they are more easily accessible to residents.
If a resident arrives at MMHS as an addict or recently sober, part of his or her plan is to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) three days a week. MMHS also helps a resident leave behind a destructive social circle. “We had a woman—she was 52 years old—she said she hadn’t been sober since she was 12, and all of her friends had addiction problems,” Palmer said. “We needed to establish a new group of friends for her and support, and we did that, and those things make a big difference.”
Not every resident who arrives at MMHS is entirely down-and-out, but “two-thirds of the people come in with no resources whatsoever,” Palmer said. Sometimes people who come have a low-paying part-time job, or are receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), but it is often not enough to support their family; one can only receive 60 months of TANF within one’s lifetime, so the assistance eventually runs out.
Access to MMHS is not restricted to residents. Palmer has worked at the Shelter to expand resources to homelessness prevention. “[We’re] trying to reach families before everything has crumbled,” Palmer said.
Just as Palmer reaches out to people before they reach their lowest point, she tries to stay connected with all of the residents who leave MMHS. “It’s not enough to just get housed when you leave the Shelter. We try to build a strong enough relationship so that when they’re really ready to go to step two and three and four, we’re there for them.”
Sometimes former residents will feel themselves faltering again, and Palmer makes sure they know they have their “shelter family” to come to when they need help or reassurance. “We’re their cheerleaders sometimes,” she said.
What Palmer hopes to bring to people’s lives through MMHS is solid support and a sense of possibility. “After you’ve been in a stable housing situation for a while, you have hope,” Palmer said. “And that’s probably one of the biggest gifts we can give people is hope—hope and empowerment. Because they can do it if they get that, I think.”