June 19, 2018
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Woman who stayed at Rockport shelter that abruptly closed recalls life at Hospitality House

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKPORT, Maine — Robin Cougle knows firsthand the importance of a homeless shelter as a lifeline.

Cougle, who suffers from bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder from a childhood trauma she said she does not wish to discuss, spent two months at the Mid-Coast Hospitality House in Rockport. She was one of the final residents of the shelter before it closed during the final week of November.

The shelter closed without warning to either the state that largely funded the facility or to community members who have sought to support the house.

But the Maine State Housing Authority is working with local community groups to reopen the shelter.

Anne Beebe-Center, who works on homeless initiatives for Penquis’ office in Rockland, said a group called the Knox County Homeless Coalition is working with Maine State Housing to get the shelter open no later than the end of January. She said New Hope for Women, a domestic violence prevention and education agency in Rockland, will be the fiscal agent for the shelter.

Beebe-Center said the need is great in the region for a shelter.

Before the center can reopen, it needs to be restocked with items such as linen and dishes, she said.

Cougle entered the Hospitality House with her 16-year-old son on Aug. 8.
She said she had been evicted from an apartment in Rockland while she spent 10 days in the psychiatric unit of Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport this past summer.

Cougle said she has lived in other shelters and the Hospitality House was one of the better ones. The nearest shelter for Knox County other than the Hospitality House are in Bangor, Waterville and Brunswick.

The Hospitality House has rooms both on the first and second floor of one half of the house, she said. Residents each shared a bathroom with other residents of their floors, Cougle said.There was one kitchen for the entire shelter section of the former farmhouse, she said. Gordon Mank Jr. and his family lived in the other half of the house. The Manks ran the shelter for the Hospitality House since 1999.

There was one telephone but it could not be used for long-distance calls. There was also a coin-operated laundry.

While meals were not provided, she said there were often donated meals and food brought in by various people and groups.

There was also a room with a television with basic cable. Cougle said there were rules that television programming had to be appropriate for all ages and that no music videos were to be watched.

Residents also were required to develop a list of goals for their lives, she said, and how to get out of being homeless.

Residents could only stay in the shelter from 4:30 p.m. through 8:30 a.m. The other time they were not allowed to remain there.

“I would spend my day walking around or going to the library,” Cougle said.

The location outside of Rockland, however, meant that transportation was a problem. Downtown Rockland is three miles from the shelter and Old County Road has no sidewalks. The shelter is located in Rockport but near the townline with Rockland.

Cougle said she lived on the Gulf Coast part of Texas and following hurricanes Rita and Katrina, she moved to Maine where the father of her son had lived.

“I’d rather live through a blizzard than water rushing into my home,” Cougle said.

When she moved to the Midcoast of Maine in 2005, she held retail jobs including at Walmart, Cougle said. She last worked in 2006, saying she has been unable to because of her mental illness.

Cougle said she has applied for long-term disability but said she hopes that it will not be permanent.

“I don’t want to be considered disabled forever,” she said.

Cougle works with a caseworker from the organization Break of Day based in Wiscasset. Break of Day provides case management services and works to integrate people with mental illness into the community.

Since the Hospitality House closed, Cougle has been living in a room at the Seven Mountains Motel in Rockport. Penquis, the local community action organization in the region, is paying for the costs of the room through a state grant.

Cougle said she has applied for rental assistance so she can transition into an apartment but that there is a long waiting list to receive such financial assistance.

She said she does not know where she will be living once the Penquis program runs out for her. Her son is staying with friends.

During the two months she stayed at the Hospitality House, Cougle said the shelter was never at capacity.

The Hospitality House had a capacity for 15 people, according to Former Hospitality House Board Chairman the Rev. Walden Chandler of St. George. Chandler left the board during the past spring.

Cougle said the most people that were at the shelter while she stayed there were nine, including herself and son.

The woman said soon after she moved in, operator Gordon Mank Jr. told residents that if other people came to the shelter looking for a place to stay, the residents were to tell the other people that the shelter was full.

She said that at another time Mank had mentioned that there were cots available if the capacity of the shelter was reached and there was a need to serve more people.

The Manks have not been available for comment.

The final day in which residents were listed as being housed there was Nov. 25, according to the state housing authority.

Local clergy have said they had little success in contacting the Manks during the past year when trying to find temporary emergency housing for people in need who came to their churches. Some say that problem went back further.

“I never have been able to get anyone in,” said the Rev. Peter Jenks of St. John Baptist Episcopal Church in Thomaston.

Jenks said the overall issue of homelessness needs to be studied and determine whether running a large shelter is the best use of limited resources.

The Maine State Housing Authority has taken control of the facility and said it is working to get another operator to reopen the shelter soon.

The closure of the shelter came as a surprise to the housing authority, former board members and local clergy. Volunteers who cook meals for residents found out about the closure when they were delivering food during the last week of November and found it closed.

The remaining board members filed papers with Maine the secretary of state’s office on Nov. 27 to dissolve the nonprofit Mid-Coast Hospitality House Corp. The paperwork filed with the state listed Joslyn Couch as chairwoman of the board. Couch has not been able to be reached for comment and Beebe-Center said the coalition has also not been in contact with Couch. She said some former board members from the shelter have stepped forward and said they would be willing to assist in getting the shelter reopened.

The corporation purchased the 2,434-square-foot building in October 1989.
The property is assessed by the town for $370,000.

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