PARKMAN, Maine — Piscataquis County will soon be getting a much-needed homeless shelter if the Rev. John Weeks has his way.
Weeks, who is known as Pastor Jack, and his wife, Linda, have agreed to buy the former McKusick Elementary School along Route 150 in Parkman. They plan to convert it into the Holy Spirit Missions Church and Shelter. The building was originally sold nearly three years ago but has changed hands several times, he said.
But John Weeks needs to raise $20,000 in the next two months in order to make it happen.
Weeks talked to the owner of the building about buying the property.
“He said he needed $1,000 down. I’m not rolling in cash,” said Weeks. “So I said, ‘OK, $1,000 down. I’ll come back and pay you tomorrow at noon.’ I don’t even have $100 in my pockets. My wife’s off to one side looking at me like I’m crazy.
“So we went home and prayed about it. And a woman we didn’t know that well came to me and said the Lord spoke to her and told her to save $1,000 because somebody needed it,” said Weeks. “She handed me $1,000 and I came up here the next day.”
The former school is an ideal building in an ideal location for a homeless shelter, said Weeks.
“All I could do was cry when I looked at it. It was perfect,” he said, adding that the building is only three miles from Guilford.
Weeks has plenty of experience at setting up and running homeless shelters. He operates a men’s shelter in Skowhegan that holds 60 people and a women’s shelter in Solon that can house 12 people.
But a homeless shelter designed for families was lacking.
“I had a call about a week ago from a family that has four kids, a husband and wife; they’re homeless,” he said. “Unfortunately, I get that quite often. Right now, nobody can help them and all I can do is send them to Bangor.”
Weeks said the 1,500-square-foot building will hold about 60 people. There’s plenty of parking and even some playground equipment.
The town and community are behind him, he said.
“We’ve had really, really good reception in this town. Everybody’s tickled about it,” Weeks said.
“We all thought it was a good project,” said Parkman Selectmen James Morin Sr.
The shelter will run without any taxpayer money, said Weeks. It will operate through volunteers and donations.
“Some of the women who have helped in the shelters are coming with us,” said Weeks.
Showers need to be installed, along with other renovation work. Weeks said he thought it wouldn’t need much work to bring it up to code.
Arthur Jette, community relations coordinator and domestic violence prevention advocate for Womancare, said having a place to get back on your feet makes all the difference.
“There are many people who find themselves in a situation that’s beyond their control and one of the primal needs is shelter,” said Jette. “Even in the summertime, something as simple as being able to have a place for your stuff, take a shower or use a bathroom — these are things that most of us take for granted.”
Weeks, who has been homeless himself, said those in the shelter will help keep the place tidy. Church meetings will be every night at 7 and there also will be meetings for those battling drug or alcohol problems.
“I run a program where drug addicts come in and I will hold their hand, go through [detox] with them,” said Weeks. “I used to be an addict. I will try as hard as they do. If they quit trying, I’m all done, too.”
Before any work can get started, Weeks said he needs the $20,000 down payment on the building. He and his wife are holding a barbecue fundraiser on Saturday, May 26, at the shelter starting at 9 a.m.
“We’re going to be encouraging any way that we can for people to find whatever comfortable way they can to support the effort to bring a safe shelter for people who are, really, the most vulnerable,” said Jette.