WATERVILLE — A homeless man who has lived in a tent along the Kennebec River for two winters was arrested Wednesday and charged with criminal trespass after police learned he was building a wooden hut at his campsite.

Vaughan Orchard

Vaughan Orchard, 56, argued with police and would not leave when officers went to his encampment around 3 p.m. Wednesday near Head of Falls, off Front Street, and told him he had to go, according to Deputy Chief Bill Bonney. Orchard’s hut was on Pan Am Railways property and the railroad did not want him there, Bonney said.

“He said he was not going to leave and they’d have to arrest him,” Bonney said.

A person who had been at Head of Falls taking photographs Wednesday reported to police that a man was building a house of wood on the riverbank and police went to investigate, according to Bonney.

Three entities own property there: the city, the railroad and Waterville Family Practice. Police checked the lines and determined the property Orchard was on was railroad property, Bonney said. Sgt. Dan Goss called Pan Am officials, who said they did not want Orchard there, he said.

Orchard was taken to the Kennebec County jail in Augusta, where bail was set at $250 cash, Bonney said. Orchard is scheduled to appear Nov. 21 in Waterville District Court. A jail spokesman said Thursday morning that he was still at the jail.

Orchard, a slim, 6-foot-tall man with gray hair and beard, is a well-known figure in downtown Waterville, where he pushes a grocery cart around, collecting bottles and cans. Recently, a local hair stylist posted on social media that he offered Orchard a free shampoo and haircut, and Orchard accepted. After that, Orchard, who previously had long gray hair, sported a modern cut and was clean shaven for a time.

This would have been Orchard’s third winter living on the riverbank. At his encampment Thursday morning, piles of pine lumber were scattered around a small hut being built next to his blue and white tent.

The well-built hut is about 7 feet tall and 7 feet wide and rests on a concrete foundation that has a manhole with a cover bearing the letters “KSTD,” which stand for Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District.

The hut has a doorway but no roof and is about 50 feet east of the railroad tracks behind the Waterville Family Practice building, which also houses the Morning Sentinel offices.

Other than the presence of piles of lumber, the area around the tent and hut appeared tidy. Bonney said Orchard would be given time to remove his belongings from the riverbank.

Orchard has been well-known to police for many years and has been arrested before, Bonney said. In August, he was summoned and charged with criminal trespass for being on other property, he said.

Orchard often is heard yelling in his tent.

At Orchard’s encampment Thursday morning, piles of pine lumber were scattered around a small hut being built on a concrete foundation that has a manhole cover bearing the letters “KSTD,” for Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District. Staff photo by David Leaming

Ten days before Christmas in 2015, he told the Morning Sentinel that he had lived several years in a tent, was a U.S. Army veteran and had been invited to live at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville, but he did not want to abide by rules and wanted to remain independent.

After a column appeared in the Sentinel about Orchard, people brought him blankets, clothes, food and Coleman stoves.

STRUGGLES WITH HOMELESSNESS

Betty Palmer, executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, said Thursday that shelter officials have been helping and supporting Orchard for years, but he refuses to stay at the shelter.

“We’ve put him up in motels before, and he wears out his welcome at the motels,” she said. “We try to get him housed every year and he will not let us. We give him a voucher at least twice a year.”

She has explained to Orchard that he may not build on railroad property, she said, but because of his mental illness, he does not understand that and believes it is the city that will not allow him to build there. She said she has told him what happens when people build without a permit.

The last time they had that discussion, Orchard became angry. He has not shown up at the shelter for the last three months to get supplies, so she and others drop food and other essentials in his grocery cart near his campsite, she said.

“He just needs a place within the city limits so he could walk to things, and we would help him build a little home,” Palmer said. “I have volunteers that could pop right up to do that.”

Palmer said she was sorry to hear he had been arrested. It is difficult to find places for people like Orchard who suffer from mental illness.

“It’s not like it’s a mother with a cute little kid,” she said. “People are afraid of him.”

Palmer said 52 people are housed at the homeless shelter on Colby Street, about 18 people are homeless out-of-doors and another 18 or so are couch surfing in the city.

“Then you’ve got another at least 50 in Waterville who are doubled up with families,” she said.

The problem, according to Palmer, is that most of the available jobs in the area are at fast-food places and places that pay minimum wage.

“Even if you have a job at minimum wage in this town, it’s beyond your means,” she said. “Minimum-wage jobs do not give people enough income to afford housing in this community.”

Many homeless people with mental illness or addiction often turn to the riverbanks and are not prepared to be housed, she said.

Palmer chose her words carefully in describing how the problems of homelessness and poverty in the U.S. do not get the attention they deserve.

When there are floods and other natural disasters and people see many displaced people sleeping on gymnasium floors, they are moved to action, which is great; but there is no urgency for those who live on floors every day because of homelessness, according to Palmer.

“Where’s FEMA and disaster relief for them?” she asked. “I don’t know how to say that properly without people saying we’re being disrespectful.”

Palmer said she believes strongly that building tiny houses is a good solution for providing homeless people a place to live, but some communities reject the idea of tiny houses. She said not everybody wants to live in a large home.

Palmer waited Thursday morning on Front Street, hoping to see a particular young homeless couple she knows emerge from the riverbank so she could offer them help. As she waited, 16 or 17 mostly young people came up from the riverbank, she said. The shelter staff and volunteers bring the homeless blankets and let them know showers and food are available at the shelter, she said. They try to get that word out to all the homeless peeople in the city so they know there’s support, particularly with winter coming.

“Even though it’s beautiful right now, when it goes cold, it goes cold very quickly,” Palmer said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17