BANGOR, Maine — Later this month, four mothers and children who don’t have a place to call home will begin moving into a new family-friendly homeless shelter established by Manna Ministries at its large brick headquarters on Main Street.
The shelter, called Ann’s House, has been a dream of Executive Director Bill Rae’s for the last several years.
“We wanted a place where women and children could come to get back on their feet and grow,” Rae said Thursday night during an open house at the shelter.
Though the family shelter originally was going to be housed in a new building planned for former Beal College property Manna now owns, finding the money to pay for a $650,000 construction project proved too great of a challenge in the current economy.
Instead, Manna decided earlier this year to make space for the family shelter in the wing closest to Farm Road by moving its men’s shelter to another part of the building.
The rest of the puzzle pieces started to come together this fall when Manna began fundraising for the effort and gathering the needed furnishings and equipment through a combination of donations and discounts.
The elbow grease arrived this fall in the form of Sherry Molcan, Christin Grant and Nicole Benner — three Husson University seniors enrolled in a psychiatry class taught by professor Steve Mistler that required 20 hours of work with local nonprofits.
Over the past several months, the three cleaned, ripped out old carpeting, painted and put up wallpaper. They transformed what could have looked like a shelter into a place that looks and feels more like a home.
Ann’s House offers four bedrooms furnished with a combination of beds, bunks, cribs and a trundle bed, each complete with linens and spaces for storage. It can accommodate four mothers and up to 12 children at any given time.
The rooms and hallways are painted in soothing pastels and almost every wall features an inspirational quote — many from the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Coco Chanel, two women who faced down adversities of their own. Tinkerbell and rapper Lil Wayne also are quoted on the walls.
There also is a shared kitchen and living room area where mothers can prepare and eat meals with their children as well as play board games, read, do homework or watch television. In addition to a full bathroom and a half-bathroom and office space for staff is a spot for a small computer station for parents and children to use while doing homework and research.
Though it isn’t opening for another two weeks or so, Ann’s House already has a waiting list of about a dozen mothers who do not have a place to call home, noted Molcan, who will serve as one of its two directors.
Also prominently displayed are several large skeleton keys.
“We can give people keys [such as education, counseling and other support] but it’s up to them to unlock the chains that bind them and move forward and grow,” Molcan said when asked about why keys were chosen as part of the decor.
There is no set limit for how long women can stay at the shelter but while there, they are expected to be working toward improving their lives, either through education, counseling or any combination of steps they need to take toward that end.
In addition, they must abide by house rules, such as curfews and not having males guests.
Men, in fact, are prohibited from the shelter, even Rae, though he can enter in the event of emergencies.
“This is not a flop house,” Molcan said.
Bangor Director of Health and Community Services Shawn Yardley said Ann’s House fills a need in Greater Bangor that has gone unmet for years.
“The lack of emergency shelters for families is a problem,” he said. As it stands, neither the Hope House nor the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter are set up to accommodate families. In fact, the closest family shelter is the Emmaus Center in Ellsworth.
Homeless parents with children may be eligible for housing assistance through their hometown’s municipal general assistance programs or the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, he said.
“It’s beautiful. They did a beautiful job,” said Guylene Hamilton of Dedham, who dropped by the open house for a sneak peek with her husband, Ashton. The couple are volunteers at Manna’s soup kitchen.
“It has a peaceful feel to it,” said Ashton Hamilton. “I hope the community gets behind it.”
Rae hopes so, too. He is pursuing grants and seeking donations to cover the $3,000 a month cost for operating the shelter, a figure that includes everything from heat and lights to staff time.
For more information or to donate to Ann’s House, call 990-2870, ext. 102, or visit Manna’s website at mannamaine.org.