BANGOR — It’s a seminal time in anybody’s life: moving into a place of his or her own.
This transition takes on special meaning for a person who has been homeless or living in shelters.
Now a growing volunteer program, Welcome to Housing, seeks to gather the household items that the formerly homeless will need when moving into permanent housing.
Bangor Realtor Christopher Olsen, one of the program’s coordinators, sees those who can benefit from Welcome to Housing to be in a position that most people understand.
“Everyone can relate to getting into their first place and realizing what items they didn’t have,” said Olsen, whose volunteer affiliations have included the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Welcome to Housing developed from a grant that the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter received to help people with mental illness (a number of homeless people deal with mental illness). Dennis Marble, the shelter’s executive director, explained that those funds were used for security deposits on permanent housing as well as household items that their clients may have needed.
When those funds began to run out, shelter staff had to figure out how the program could be continued.
“We concluded that the items for housing could be donated, and community volunteers could figure out how to make this work,” Marble said.
Marble and Case Manager Marla Flaherty got in touch with Olsen in mid-summer, and the volunteer organization process began.
Olsen has set up a Facebook page (Welcome to Housing Bangor Maine) so that interested people could find out what items are needed (see box) or how to join the effort.
The volunteers have several tasks to make this program work: Collecting, transporting, and storing the donations and matching up items with the shelter’s clients’ needs.
The group had been storing items in two storage BODs contributed by Parker J. Bailey in Brewer. But recently, they got permission to use a 2,600-square-foot space in Old Town.
Olsen is excited by the recent development. “We haven’t actively solicited donations because we didn’t have enough storage until recently, and we’re already getting items donated,” he said.
The program’s volunteers are seeking predominantly new items, although some “gently used” items will be accepted. Already they’ve received too many of what Olsen referred to as “yard sale leftovers.”
“We’re trying to bring people into permanent housing with some dignity,” he said. “As Dennis says, it’s about giving people a hand-up, not a hand-out. If they feel they have the support of the community, hopefully they’ll have a better chance of succeeding.”
There’s an inventory of items that are available, and Flaherty and the shelter’s staff will check when looking for items their clients need.
Now that Welcome to Housing has some of the groundwork in place, Olsen is optimistic that the program will take off.
“The community is already supportive,” he said. “People are coming out of the woodwork to help.”
“Welcome to Housing” is seeking donations of the following basic needs:
• Can openers;
• Dish drainers;
• Oven mitt/potholder/aprons/dish towels;
• Alarm clocks;
• Personal care items;
• Shower curtains;
• Light bulbs/flashlights;
• Inexpensive area rugs;
• Furniture: couches, tables, chairs, lamps;
• Gift cards/monetary donations.
To arrange donations, call 947-0092 or email Marlaf@bangorareashelter.org.