Bangor shelter for homeless women and children faces funding problems

Posted April 19, 2012, at 8:33 p.m.
Bill Rae, the executive director of Manna Ministries in Bangor, speaks in March 2010.
Bill Rae, the executive director of Manna Ministries in Bangor, speaks in March 2010. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — Despite statewide demand for its services, Manna Ministries’ recently opened shelter for homeless women and children is facing serious funding problems.

Located at Manna’s large brick headquarters on Main Street, Ann’s House can accommodate up to five women and their children at a time, executive director Bill Rae said in an interview this week.

Besides a safe place to live, the women staying at Ann’s House have access to food, clothing and an array of services aimed at helping them get back on their feet and on the way to independent, healthy home lives.

In some cases, Rae said, that might mean help with earning a GED, obtaining a driver’s license or housing and food assistance.

“These are the kinds of things most of us take for granted,” he said.

For others, that could mean counseling or access to services for domestic violence victims or people afflicted with mental illness.

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. They also must abide by house rules, such as curfews and not having male guests.

From the time it opened on Jan. 2, the shelter has been at full capacity. The waiting list, which included about a dozen families in the month before the shelter opened, stood at 37 families this week.

So far, six mothers and about twice the number of children have received the help they needed and moved into homes of their own, Rae said. Some mothers have landed jobs and others are going to school.

After the instability of having been homeless or “couch surfing” at the homes of friends and relatives, some of the women sob with relief upon arriving at Ann’s House, Director Sherry Molcan said this week.

“We let them know that you can do this on your own,” she said.

“But the biggest change is the kids,” Rae said. “When they arrive here, some of them are very untrusting, very despondent and very unruly. By the time they leave, you do see these kids smiling again.”

Largely because it is the only one of its kind in Greater Bangor and most of Maine, the shelter’s waiting list is long. Many on the list are from Greater Bangor but the list also includes people from Lewiston, small towns up and down the coast of Maine and the northern reaches of the state.

According to Rae, it costs Manna at least $2,100 a week to keep the shelter running, a figure that includes everything from heat and electricity to case managers, counseling and other services.

Ann’s House was set to receive reimbursement from a Maine State Housing Authority shelter program in January, Rae said.

“That would have covered most of our budget,” he said.

But before that could happen, a freeze was put on shelter funding through the rest of this fiscal year, he said. Efforts to get the freeze lifted so far have been unsuccessful.

General assistance dollars also are getting harder to come by, compounding the shelter’s funding problems, he said.

As a result, Rae and others involved in the effort are working to cobble together grants, gifts and whatever else they can in order to keep the shelter running.

Rae is hoping the community will come through for the families at Ann’s House, either through monetary contributions or gifts of new or lightly used infant and children’s clothing, diapers and household basics including pots and pans, dishes and linens, to name a few.

Besides money, perhaps the shelter’s biggest need is a van to help the women get to and from appointments, classes and errands, he said.

For information or to donate to Ann’s House, call 990-2870, ext. 102, or visit Manna’s website at mannamaine.org. Contributions also can be dropped off at 629 Main St.

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