YORK, Maine — Permanent housing for town resident James Kences remains elusive, but a small group of people who have come to his aid in recent weeks say they will work diligently to help him in the weeks, months and even years to come.
Kences, 57, is living in temporary housing through early next month, after leaving his home of 15 years April 8 because it was being sold. However, sparked by the commitment of what he has called his “new circle of friends,” Kences did end a nearly month-long hunger strike. “I kept dreaming about food,” he said with a laugh.
Kences had stopped eating March 12 to draw attention to the fact that, as a man with diagnosed mental challenges on a fixed income, he was unable to find a place that was affordable in York. Kences has nonverbal learning disabilities on the autism spectrum, and at the same time is an avid historian who has published several works, including a history of York.
Kences is living temporarily in an apartment in York, but can only remain there until May 8. The town of York is willing to pay for a motel room for several weeks after that, but no apartment has yet been found for $691 a month — the amount of Kences’ housing voucher.
Kences’ “circle of friends” met Friday with him to discuss his options — which they told him may include having to leave York for a nearby town. Resident Joan Jarvis, who helped Kences move, told him she was stunned to see the toll it took on him.
“Moving is difficult for anyone,” she said, “but I could see how difficult it was for you. We’ve moved you once, and if we have to move you a couple more times, it could be traumatic for you.”
Jarvis and others in the group suggested that Kences remain open to the idea that he may need to move to the Berwicks for a year while they continue to work to find him a place in York.
Part of the problem is that Kences has a dog, but will be seeing his doctor to ascertain whether the dog can be officially declared a therapy dog — which might help in securing an apartment. Another challenge is the fact that Kences risks losing his voucher and his Social Security disability payments if they are supplemented by donations — which would be considered income. To date, more than $1,500 has been pledged by people to help Kences, said another member of the group, the Rev. Kari Prichard.
Members said they learned from Kences’ social workers that donations could be used to pay for a security deposit and also for a car, which might be necessary. Kences said “a car would restore my dignity.”
Katie McWilliams, general assistance director for the town of York, said the town’s emergency fund can take donations that can be used to help defray these costs for Kences. People interested in helping him are asked to send a check made out to the town of York, and to put “emergency fund” in the memo line.
Meanwhile, the group has not given up hope of finding someplace in York. Michelle Hanson this week sent out a letter to all of York’s church congregations, and made up posters that are being placed around town telling Kences’ story and seeking assistance.
Kences said he truly appreciates the effort his “new circle of friends” are putting in on his behalf.
“I have the sense that I am not doing this on my own. As traumatic as moving was, I have the sense of people pulling for me. It’s very gratifying,” he said.
To get in touch with the group helping Kences, email email@example.com.