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UMPI To Turn Gym Into Temporary Homeless Shelter

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University of Maine at Presque Isle
ACAP and UMPI staffers set up cots for a temporary wellness shelter in UMPI's Wieden Gym.

The University of Maine at Presque Isle is turning its gym into a temporary homeless shelter to support a growing number of residents in the area needing social services.

Officials say the university’s Wieden Hall Gym will be turned into a 20-bed wellness shelter operating 24 hours a day, providing meals and other supplies.

Sherry Locke, with the Aroostook County Action Program, says the beds are needed, as the area’s current homeless shelter is at capacity. She says many residents, including those who have been couch surfing, are now struggling to find a place to stay.

“That may be fine for a couple weeks, or during the winter months when it’s really cold. But when something like COVID-19 comes, and everyone is quarantined to their home, you don’t have room for that neighbor or that friend to stay in your home,” she says.

Locke says the extra beds are particularly vital right now due to the economic effects of COVID-19, with many businesses shutting their doors.

“Having this shelter will help keep people in one place, having a safe place to be. And also, we’ve had calls from our local hospitals. And I think this is another important piece, that folks who are homeless are being released from the hospitals. Because the hospitals need the space. And there’s nowhere to go,” she says.

Locke says the shelter is intended to be used for residents who aren’t showing any symptoms. She says residents who may need to be quarantined or isolated will be able to stay in other facilities on campus.

The University of Southern Maine also opened a wellness shelter inside its Sullivan Gym last week. In March, the university system signed an agreement with the Maine Emergency Management Agency to use its facilities and supplies to respond to the spread of COVID-19.