August 18, 2019
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This large Victorian house in Ellsworth is being renovated for homeless families

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
Volunteer Dawn Coffin, center, and Terri Ouellette, president of the board of the Families First Community Center in Ellsworth, carry boards into the North Street house on Saturday. The Victorian house is being converted into intermediate housing for homeless families with children.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — A local charity geared toward helping homeless parents and children live more stable lives is renovating a Victorian home on North Street into housing for up to six families.

The Families First Community Center project was one of several charity efforts around Maine that got a boost Saturday from Gov. Janet Mills’ promotion of a Day of Community Service, in which she encouraged Mainers to volunteer at least part of the day with nonprofit and charity groups throughout the state.

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In Ellsworth, volunteers helped with the ongoing renovation of a large red Victorian-style house that the center’s administrators hope to have completed sometime this spring. Work is being done inside the old home, converting some of it into living quarters and making life-safety improvements that are mandated by the federal Department Housing and Urban Development, such as installing a fire suppression system and making the house compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A new wing also is being built onto the back of the house, replacing and old barn and addition, that will have four of the facility’s six small apartments, a classroom and some office space, according to Terri Ouellette, the president of the nonprofit’s board.

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
Volunteers Lieve Brutsaert, left, and Betsy Armstrong sort through boxes of dishes on Saturday at the Families First Community Center in Ellsworth. The center, located in a Victorian house that is undergoing extensive renovations, will provide intermediate housing for homeless families with children.

The goal of the renovation project is to provide intermediate housing for homeless families with children. Ouellette said the project is expected to cost between $750,000 and $800,000, which includes the price the charity paid for the property in 2017.

Ouellette said there are other homeless housing programs in the area, such as emergency shelters and housing for people grappling with addiction or trying to escape domestic violence, but that the Families First Community Center project is aimed at helping to fill in the variety of such available programs. She said that families will be able to live at the center for up to 12 to 18 months as they try to establish more stability in their daily lives.

Ouellette said that the target clientele for the new housing will be families struggling to break free of “generational poverty,” and who often need to improve their life skills before they can secure their own housing and lead stable lives. For that reason, clients who live at the community center will have access to an on-site day care program for small children, and will be offered classes such as cooking and parenting to help them make that transition.

“We’re hoping to break that cycle,” Ouellette said. “The educational component is huge.”


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