June 24, 2018
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Spreading warmth: Brunswick homeless shelter bustling on Christmas

Christopher Cousins | BDN
Christopher Cousins | BDN
Charlotte Infante reacts to a gift she received Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011, at Tedford Housing's Cushing Street shelter in Brunswick.
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

BRUNSWICK, Maine — A few years ago, Charlotte Infante bought her mother a miniature sparkling white Christmas tree and a village of angels. Her mother died two years ago and since then, Infante’s life has been pretty tough.

She went without work for more than a year and has been diagnosed with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Though she now has a part-time job, it’s not enough to pay for the basics. For the past five months, Infante has been living at a Tedford Housing homeless shelter in Brunswick.

On Sunday, Infante found herself thinking about that miniature Christmas tree and village and pining for her mother.

“I still miss her a lot,” said Infante, 57, who is a cashier in Topsham for about 15 hours a week. “There are a lot of times I’m ringing something through and I can just hear her saying, ‘We ought to have one of those.’”

But the Christmas decorations, along with most everything else she owns, are in a cardboard box somewhere, along with winter boots and a lot of other stuff that would come in handy.

“That tree would definitely be out today if mom was still here,” she said. “My life is in storage.”

Despite her challenges, Infante tries to focus on the positive. There she was in the kitchen of the homeless shelter on Christmas morning, wearing a string of bells around her neck and a broad smile on her face.

“I have a strong faith and I try to keep an up spirit,” said Infante, whose last name means child of God. “Things could be a lot worse. I will not allow this to get me down.”

Infante is one of about 15 people finding shelter at Tedford Housing’s Cushing Street shelter in Brunswick. In addition to a warm bed, they had very berry streusel French toast for breakfast and a large turkey roasting for dinner.

Each guest received a package of gifts, such as toiletries, linen, gift cards, hats and mittens. According to Michael Quirion, an attendant at the shelter, those things are made possible by a steady and determined community of volunteers and donors, including Denise Tepler of Topsham on the turkey and Steve and Mercie Normand of Harpswell on the streusel and “cowboy coffee,” which involves salt and an egg in the filter process.

“The Christmas spirit is to give back to the community,” said Steve Normand. “It’s just something we believe in.”

Joel Merry of Bath, president of Tedford Housing’s board of directors, said the shelter has been at capacity for a long time.

“There’s not a day or night that goes by that we don’t turn people away,” he said. “It’s truly on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Tedford Housing has various forms of supported housing in Bath, Brunswick, Auburn, Lewiston and Augusta. Merry, who is also the Sagadahoc County sheriff, said about half of the organization’s $1.3 million budget is federal money, one-third is state and the rest donations. He said the supplemental budget proposed by Gov. Paul LePage, which is under consideration by the Legislature, would reduce revenue if passed as-is.

“The agency is strong. It’s not financially in trouble,” said Merry. “We do believe the proposed budget will impact the revenue stream.”

Of particular concern, said Merry, is a proposed cut in subsidies for case managers, who help clients with a range of issues designed to help them leave the shelter before the 90-day limit.

Jerry Dube of Brunswick is on his third stay at the shelter and like others is hoping for an apartment voucher and just about any kind of job. Until a few days ago, many of his nights were spent in the woods behind Cumberland Farms or at the gazebo on the Brunswick Mall. He said he knows what causes a lot of his problems, but he’s working on it.

“I’ve been sober 43 days. I’m basically just staying away from some old friends,” he said. “This is the longest I’ve ever made it.”

Despite “applications everywhere,” he has no job or apartment prospects. With support from the shelter, including other people living there, he said he does have hope.

“Everyone just helps everyone out around here,” he said.

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