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Homeless shelters, downsized by COVID, brace for subzero temps

Maine churches are opening their doors to help with the overflow at homeless shelters.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, MAINE, Maine — Homeless shelters face a tough task this week with wind chills expected to be well below zero throughout the state. Boyd Kronholm, Bangor Area Homeless Shelter’s executive director, explained how his shelter also faced the cruelty of COVID, having to reduce capacity from 43 beds and mats to 32.

“It is a balancing act of what do you do when the spots are all full,” he posed. “Do you overpack it and worry about people getting COVID? Or, do you not overpack it and have people outside and freezing to death? And that’s why it’s really great that we’re able to partner with these two faith-based agencies.”

The two Bangor agencies lauded by Kronholm, the Brick Church and Mansion Church, take in people who would otherwise put his shelter overcapacity and risk being turned away.

The Maine Housing Authority lists nine shelters in Cumberland County, eight in Portland. These agencies offer a range of recovery services, but emergency shelters typically close in the morning when temperatures rise. But, sunrise in Portland was still forecast to carry a wind chill of 18 below zero.

To meet this daytime need, city officials announced the First Parrish Church, in the heart of downtown Portland, would open its doors to anyone needing respite from 8 a.m-5 p.m.

At the Tedford House in Brunswick, the ultimate goal is permanent housing for its clients, but, Director of Programs Giff Jamison said Monday night’s focus was to make sure people survived the night, even though there likely wouldn’t be room when they knock on the door.

“We’ll probably, at least, be able to sit them on our couch or sit them in a chair,” he said. “They might not be able to get a bed, but we might be able to assist them some way — at least getting them through the night.”

Jamison said this capacity issue was part of a long-term problem in his region and beyond.

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