LEWISTON, Maine — With forecasted lows in the single digits or lower over the next several days, the area’s most vulnerable residents have little choice but to seek shelter.
Below-zero temperatures have swept across much of the northern half of the country, ushering most people indoors to hunker down while furnaces hum. For the area’s homeless, however, below-zero readings become a matter of survival.
Pastor John Robbins, director of Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston, is well aware of the plight of the homeless in all seasons.
Operating a 30-bed facility year-round which serves two meals a day, seven days a week, Robbins and his crew of full-time, part-time and volunteer workers see a constant need with little influx due to weather.
“Normally our clients are gone around 8 a.m. and return around 4:30 p.m. for supper and intake registration,” Robbins said. He said that with the extreme temperatures due tomorrow, however, clients will have a stay-in day. The same is true with blizzard conditions and days with heavy rains.
When asked about referrals or other means by which Hope Haven’s clients show up at the door, Robbins said, “People find us.” There is no single source.
Speaking from the “give-away” area, as Robbins called it, he spoke glowingly of community support for his mission. “We had a splendid year last year due to the generosity … of the people in this area and we are grateful for everything people did in 2012 to get us here today.”
In Auburn, area homeless are still gathering in the woods along the Little Androscoggin. According to Rooper’s employee, Nikki Hernandez, she still sees people come into the store from encampments behind Moulton Park.
“They’re like a small community,” she said, noting that the population fluctuates with the seasons. “There’s one guy who keeps coming in,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t know how he does it.”
Hernandez said the police go in occasionally to move them along, but it only causes a brief disruption and encourages the group to move around more often. Not long ago, according to Hernandez, a resident who had recently died had his camp burned by the others. “There was no obituary or anything,” she said.
In Casco, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, Maine Warden Service and Maine State Police searched in the cold Tuesday evening for 16-year-old Michael Pendexter.
Pendexter left a Spurwink house Tuesday afternoon and was last seen walking near the intersection of routes 121 and 11 when he ran into the woods, followed by house staff members.
Authorities searched the area but could not locate Pendexter, thinking that he may have flagged down a ride and could be heading to Portland. Severe cold and medical issues are a factor and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office is requesting the public help in the search.