September 6, 2013

Skowhegan shelter for homeless youth closing

The 10-bed Halcyon House, which provides services to children ages 10 to 17, becomes the latest victim of a cut in federal funding.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — A shelter that provides emergency housing to homeless youths is being closed because of a reduction in state and federal support, the shelter’s operator announced Thursday.

click image to enlarge

Halcyon House in Skowhegan is being closed.

Contributed photo

click image to enlarge

Thomas J. McAdam

Contributed photo

Youths unserved
Halcyon House, a 10-bed shelter in Skowhegan, has provided shelter and other emergency services to students from all over the state. The numbers served by county from July 1, 2012, to June 30 this year are:
Androscoggin   7
Cumberland     8
Franklin     5
Kennebec     14
Lincoln     1
Oxford     3
Penobscot     3
Somerset      15
Waldo     3
York     9
Total:    68

Area Homeless Shelters:

New Hope Women’s Shelter
111 Main St., Solon
643-6015

Trinity Men’s Shelter
12 McClellan St., Skowhegan
474-8833

Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter
19 Colby St., Waterville
872-6550

Maine Statewide Crisis Hotline
888-568-1112
For those concerned about themselves or others who are in crisis

Halcyon House no longer could stay open without jeopardizing Kennebec Behavioral Health’s other programs and services, according to the organization’s chief executive officer, Thomas McAdam.

McAdam said the 10-bed Halcyon House, which provides services to children ages 10 to 17, stopped taking new residents a week ago while considering options for the program. No children live at the shelter now, he said.

He said he wasn’t sure what would happen to the property, which the health agency owns, but added that he hopes another organization will be able to step in and provide a similar service.

“They would probably face the same challenges in terms of funding,” McAdam said.

He said every Halcyon House employee was offered another job within Kennebec Behavioral Health, resulting in no layoffs.

Children who contact the agency seeking help generally will be referred to New Beginnings, which operates a shelter in Lewiston, he said.

Kennebec Behavioral Health acquired Halcyon House in 2012. During the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, the shelter provided housing, food, clothing, homework assistance and clinical assistance to 68 young people from around the state.

Homeless teens

Betty Palmer, executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville, said she has seen an immediate effect because she can no longer refer children to Halcyon House. Her 48-bed shelter provides services to youths only if they are accompanied by an adult.

“Today a 15-year-old girl shows up in our entryway, and I have to have a conversation with her that we can’t help her,” Palmer said, adding that while she was trying to find a service that would help the girl, the girl left the waiting room.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to her tonight,” she said, “and it’s going to happen again tomorrow and the next day.”

Palmer said the state should take responsibility for Maine’s homeless children.

“Places like Halcyon House work,” she said. “They flip teenagers’ lives around so that they stay in high school and go on to become fully productive citizens.”

She said she has worked with young people who have gone to extremes to find shelter, including couch surfing, living in abandoned buildings, staying in tents or being hidden by friends in a garage or barn.

Funding cuts

About 40 homeless shelters around the state are feeling the strain caused by a reduction in the federal Emergency Solutions Grants program, which is administered by the Maine State Housing Authority on behalf of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

McAdam said the situation was worse at Halcyon, because it lost $150,000 in direct federal funding about a year ago. Ever since then, he said, staff members have tried to have the funding restored.
“We tried like the dickens, but we just couldn’t do it,” he said.

McAdam said the program closure points to a fundamental problem: The need for youth-oriented homeless shelters is greater than the funding mechanisms to support them.

“The gulf is too wide,” he said.

Halcyon House, which costs the health agency more than $400,000 a year to operate, was projected to lose $120,000 this fiscal year and lost $80,000 last year, according to McAdam.

He said the health agency made efforts over the past year and a half to offset Halcyon House’s deficits, through fundraising efforts and grant proposals. While there was some success on the local level, he said, the funding cuts were too much to overcome.

“We’re very grateful for all of the help that we’ve got, not only from places like the United Way but from a number of churches, groups and individuals,” he said.

The Maine State Housing Authority announced in July that it was reducing its per-night reimbursement rate to $10.34, a reduction of 15 percent. McAdams said it actually costs Halcyon House $180 per night to provide services to its young clients, most of whom are referred by the state.

For the current fiscal year, the Emergency Solutions Grants program’s allocation in Maine was reduced 25 percent, and then a further 5 percent because of the federal sequestration, which took effect on March 1.

The net effect was an allocation of $1,051,868, a loss of $329,242 to the state.

Dean Lachance is the executive director of Bread of Life Ministries, which operates a 30-bed homeless shelter in Augusta.

He said the reduced funding doesn’t save money.

“The alternative is horrific,” Lachance said. “They’re going to be in the jails and in the hospitals, costing 50 times more, at least.”

He said that in the eight years he’s been with the ministry, per-night funding has gone down every year, from a high of about $13 per night to current levels.

Lachance said representatives of homeless shelters and the state housing authority have formed a committee to seek alternative agency funding for homeless shelters.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
mhhetling@mainetoday.com

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