BANGOR, Maine — It’s not much. Five twin beds, still covered in plastic, line a freshly painted wall. A television — small by today’s standards — sits on a shelf at one end. A bathroom and shower are accessible down a short hallway.
A few months ago, the space was storage.
The Bangor Area Homeless Shelter unveiled a modest expansion in the basement of its Main Street building on Tuesday, knowing full well that by nightfall, those beds would almost certainly be occupied.
Executive Director Dennis Marble said the shelter’s 33 beds have been full for the last two years.
“It means five more people a night are going to experience safety,” he said.
Matthew Arnett, who serves on the shelter’s board of directors, said he remembers when the basement area was nothing more than mud floors and dirty walls.
“There was stuff down here that didn’t make you want to come down for any reason,” he said. “This is heartwarming to see such a transformation considering that we have such a tremendous need.”
A number of groups came together to make the expansion possible. Bob Kelly of House Revivers Inc. donated his time. Lowe’s offered discounts on supplies. Local businessman Ken Peters also has donated time and resources, and Hollywood Slots, which bought new beds for the shelter two years ago, chipped in again.
“I called and said, ‘Want to make it 38 beds?’ They immediately said yes,” Marble said,
Chris Heywood, 43, of South Portland is a guest at the Bangor homeless shelter. He’s not down and out. He’s not chronically homeless. He just needed a little help.
“If it wasn’t for the shelter, I’d be sleeping in the park across the street,” he said. “I’ve been able to get my life back together. I’ve been getting medication regularly and have been going to counseling. It’s not just about having a place to sleep.”
Marble said the demand for homeless beds and services has been growing for years. In recent months, both Manna Ministries and the Hope House, formerly Acadia Recovery Community, have added beds.
“It’s a little sad if this place is the best we can do for people,” Marble said.
Facilities like the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter have been operating with fewer and fewer federal or state dollars. Seventy-seven percent of the nonprofit’s budget comes from local or private donations.
Marble said the biggest problem with facing homelessness head-on is the lack of a clear public policy. In the coming months, Maine’s director of homeless initiatives, Nancy Fritz, plans to roll out the state’s new direction for how homeless programming dollars will be spent.
Until then, Marble said, his shelter will continue to do what it does, one bed at a time.
As Heywood left Tuesday’s event, somewhat hurriedly, Marble called out to him.
“Good luck on your job interview,” he said.