ORLAND, Maine — When Dominique Lutz left an abusive relationship in Virginia more than a year ago, she was pregnant, had no job or home and was without prospects of finding either.
It was then that she recalled her earlier life in Maine and the relative she had there.
“I had to leave,” the 22-year-old woman said. “It was my last resort. I’d go see Aunt Lucy.”
Her Great-Aunt Lucy happens to be Lucy Poulin, the executive director at Homeworkers Organized for More Employment Inc. in Orland, which operates five shelters for the homeless in Hancock County. Lutz spent six months in one of H.O.M.E.’s shelters for women and children, and now lives at The Farm in Orland, another of the organization’s shelters that also provides space for families.
H.O.M.E. operates three shelters in Orland, one in Bucksport, and the Emmaus Shelter in Ellsworth.
Although she said that her situation is a little different because she’s “family,” Lutz said H.O.M.E. really has given her the home she needed at this time in her life.
“I have a home and I have support for my son,” she said. “He’s around family and people who care about him.”
Lutz said her experience has been similar to that of many of the homeless people who come to H.O.M.E. for shelter. Shortly after she arrived, she began volunteering at the H.O.M.E. Co-op gift shop, and then was offered a job at the co-op’s day care center, which fueled her earlier interest in teaching young children.
Since she has been there, Lutz has gotten her driver’s license and, working through the co-op’s Learning Center, has earned her GED. She plans to begin college courses this year through the Ellsworth branch of Eastern Maine Community College with an eye toward earning an associate degree in early childhood education.
“This is also my family’s home,” she said, “So I don’t really consider it a shelter. It’s a little different. But I’m still homeless. I’m trying to get my degree before I go anywhere.”
She said she knows that she’s not ready to be on her own yet, but she is planning for a future outside of the shelter.
“I want to get a better job,” she said. “If I have a degree, I can earn more and provide more for my son. Maybe I’ll be able to buy my own home. Then I’ll be able to move out.
“I’ve accomplished a lot since I’ve been here. But I’ve still got a lot to get done.”
Helping people to achieve such goals is part of the role for the H.O.M.E. shelters, according to Poulin, a former nun, who said she views the work of the shelters from a Christian perspective, although she acknowledges that not everyone in the organization feels the same.
“I think our job is to help a person to become who God is calling them to be, whoever that might be,” she said. “Education is a big part of that.”
The shelters fit in with the organization’s objectives to provide basic necessities to those most in need. In addition to the shelters, H.O.M.E. provides a soup kitchen and a variety of classes at its main campus in Orland. Residents at the shelters also have opportunities for different types of training. In return, they are expected to help out with the operation and, like Lutz, often find jobs within the organization.
H.O.M.E. began the shelter program out of necessity, Poulin said.
“That was many years ago,” she said. “We found that we were bringing our work home with us and that work was children, women, people without homes. We said that we’ve got to find homes for them.”
The organization purchased a house in Bucksport that, Poulin said, was once the “red light” district in town. They renovated it and the building now provides six beds for people without homes.
The need for shelters grew and H.O.M.E. increased its shelters to meet that need. In addition to the five shelters, the organization also has two transitional homes — one in Ellsworth and one in Dedham — and also has worked with volunteers to build approximately 50 houses in and around the county to be sold to low-income families.
There are a number of reasons why people become homeless, Poulin said. Those who come to the shelter are young and old, men and women, and there are many more people in danger of becoming homeless.
“Most people are only one paycheck away from being homeless,” she said. “If they lose their job, they can’t pay their rent, they can be evicted; if they can’t pay their mortgage, they can lose their home.”
Often, she said, the situations are made worse by drugs or alcohol.
Occupancy at the shelters varies, but at any one time there could be 60 to 80 people housed in the organization’s various facilities. The annual budget for the shelters runs to more than $100,000, including lights, heat, food and transportation, and, though the organization receives some aid from the Maine State Housing Association, it relies on donations as its main source of revenue for the shelters.
“We really need the help of our neighbors who have more,” she said.
H.O.M.E. board member Tammy Hooper is a strong advocate for the shelters and the service they provide for the homeless. After hearing unconfirmed reports that a family with an 8-month-old baby was living in a car in Bangor, she said she is especially concerned that people are made aware that the shelters provide space for families, which is a scarce commodity in the region.
Hooper has a unique perspective, not only as a board member, but as someone who has made use of the shelter in the past.
She, her late husband and three children spent a month at the St. Francis Inn, one of the H.O.M.E. shelters in Orland, about 4½ years ago. They had been living in a home in the area when the owner’s daughter lost her home in a hurricane down South.
“She ended our lease early,” Hooper said. “I had a new baby and two other children. We hadn’t saved anything. We had no money for the deposit or first month’s rent. I was very upset, but didn’t know what to do.”
Hooper had volunteered at the co-op and knew Poulin, who said they could find a place for the family.
“There are a lot of reasons why people become homeless,” Hooper said. “It’s not always drugs or alcohol. It’s not even that they make bad choices. Sometimes it’s just bad luck.”
Hooper and her family stayed at the inn for one month. It was a good experience coming out of a bad situation, and it gave the family time to find another place to live.
“There was another family there. We became good friends; we’re still friends,” she said. “My daughter took her first steps in that house. It was good for my family. It gave us a chance to get on our feet and get into another house.”
For information on H.O.M.E. and its shelters, call 469-7961 or go to www.homecoop.net.