Area shelters give residents a chance to warm up

Posted Jan. 24, 2011, at 9:17 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Vulnerable portions of the city’s population such as the elderly and the homeless have no lack of options when it comes to beating the cold, area officials say.

Still, with temperatures expected to reach well below zero Monday night and record-setting cold gripping most of the Northeast, staying warm and knowing where to go to do so can be daunting for some.

In Bangor, area residents can choose from a number of shelters and services, many of which collaborate with one another and conduct community outreach programs that ensure no one is left out in the cold.

“We’re always putting the word out that we are here and we are also very concerned at this time of year,” said the Rev. Bob Carlson, president of Penobscot Community Health Care, which offers various services for the homeless. “The homeless network is an interesting one. It goes where the Internet cannot, so many of our occupants hear about our services through the grapevine.”

Carlson, who oversees Hope House in Bangor, a homeless shelter for alcoholics and drug addicts, and the Outback Program on Summer Street, a daytime shelter whose members can go to get warm and shoot pool or use a computer, said occupancy rates at the Hope House have been surprisingly low lately compared to years past.

“We’ve been busy at the Outback program, but all of our beds haven’t been filled to capacity in recent nights” at the Hope House, he said.

Michael Andrick, director of the Hope House, said traffic at the facility’s daytime warming center has not increased during the recent cold snap. Still, Andrick said the Hope House conducts community outreach to ensure that anyone without a place to stay knows about the shelter and its warming center. He said the shelter has increased its amount of “sweeps,” visits to spots around the city frequented by the area’s homeless, in order to provide transportation to the Hope House or its services if necessary. The shelter has set up overflow cots in addition to the 100 or so beds already available.

At the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter on Main Street, anyone seeking refuge from the cold during the day may come in off the street between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to its director, Dennis Marble. Marble said that as of Monday morning, the shelter was not busy, but he said he expected that to change by Monday night, and as a result the shelter would set up overflow cots.

Also in the downtown area, the Together Place on Union Street runs a social club and warming center during the day from Monday to Friday. Members can eat from the center’s snack bar or get a hot meal until 3 p.m.

Another option for those who want to get out of the cold includes the Shaw House, a shelter and daytime program serving area youths under age 18.

At the First United Methodist Church on Essex Street, a hot meal is served every Thursday evening.

Shawn Yardley, director of Bangor’s Department of Health and Community Services, said there are steps that homeowners and renters can take to beat the cold.

“It’s important to resist the temptation to turn the heat below 68 degrees,” he said. Even though it may be costly to keep the temperature higher, it’s dangerous to have it too low, he noted.

“You want to maintain a stable temperature,” Yardley said. “Everyone should also be checking on their neighbors, especially if you know they might be elderly or a little bit vulnerable.”

Yardley said the city is offering emergency general assistance applications for heating fuel funds and is accepting donations that will go to families who may need help paying for housing during the winter months.

Carol Higgins Taylor, communications director at the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, also stressed the variety of options that are available to area residents.

“Most of the social services in the area collaborate, and this is really the key — especially this time of year,” she said. “There are really a lot of services out there, and they all provide a great deal of help when the winter seems to be too much to handle.”

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