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State uses emergency funds to open and expand 13 overnight warming shelters through April

Robert F. Bukaty
AP File
A homeless man sitting outside a coffee shop accepts cash from a customer on a bitter cold morning, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Portland, Maine.

Thirteen organizations are receiving state emergency funds from MaineHousing to open new or expand existing overnight warming shelters through April.

The shelter grants, which total slightly more than $1 million, are a portion of the $21 million fund that Gov. Janet Mills and the state Legislature approved last month as part of a broader emergency heating and energy package.

Three organizations in Portland and two in Bangor received funds to expand and open overnight shelters. The Augusta Warming Center will expand its services. Organizations in Alfred, Brunswick, Calais, Houlton, Monson, Waterville and Wiscasset will also receive shelter funds.

Healthy Acadia opened a shelter in Ellsworth back in December, and it will stay open through April.

These grants stemmed from two requests for proposals, which MaineHousing issued in late January. One proposal solicited ideas from municipalities, nonprofits and religious organizations who were interested in opening or expanding overnight shelters in the near term; the second request sought broader projects that could help the unhoused population during future winters.

Proposals were due last week, and MaineHousing released funds to grant winners seven days later.

In an email, a MaineHousing spokesman said other overnight shelters could open up throughout the state using other funding sources. But the remaining $19 million will be focused on helping municipalities and organizations provide longer-term solutions for the unhoused population next winter and beyond.

Officials in Auburn, however, say plans to get a shelter of their own up and running have fallen through.

City officials said this week they've been trying for months to find a shelter location. They submitted a proposal to renovate and repurpose a city-owned building, but a water line broke and repairs proved too expensive, said Glen Holmes, Auburn's director of business and community development.

The city pursued partnerships with other local organizations, but with tight timing and the state planning to announce its shelter grants Friday, the plans just didn't come together, Holmes said.

"Heading into the long haul, we're going to find some way to make this happen," he said. "It just won't be for this season."

In the future, Holmes said the city needs a shelter that could host 20-30 people.

Auburn recently stood up a temporary warming center with the city housing authority, but officials said attendance was lower than anticipated, likely due to the shelter's location.