BIDDEFORD’S SAINT ANDRE HOME is closing programs for pregnant women and adoptions.

BIDDEFORD’S SAINT ANDRE HOME is closing programs for pregnant women and adoptions.

BIDDEFORD

Saint Andre Home, a nonprofit agency that provides assistance to pregnant women, victims of sex trafficking and more, will close two of its long-running programs in the coming months because of a lack of funding.

Executive Director Reid Scher said Sunday that the agency expects to close Starling Place, which provides housing for pregnant women and new mothers who need a place to live, in about a month, and its adoption program in about three months. Both programs have been cornerstones of the Elm Street agency for the past 75 years.

“These are really difficult decisions,” Scher said. “ This is a long- standing legacy. The board (of directors) and the (Good Shepherd) sisters have been deeply committed to providing these services.

“They’ve done everything they can to maintain this in the city of Biddeford, but society has changed, times have changed, and the agency and the board were faced with some extremely difficult decisions.”

The Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, also known as the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec, started Saint Andre Home on Easter Sunday in 1940. The private agency has provided thousands of families with counseling, housing, education, health care and other resources since then.

Through the years, funding has come from the sisters and private donors, as well as state and federal sources.

The agency took a blow in 2013, said Scher, when the state eliminated all funding for residential services programs such as Starling Place through its public health insurance program, MaineCare. Now, the cost of running Starling Place has become an “ impossibility for the agency to support,” he said.

“It costs several hundred thousand dollars (a year to run Starling Place), and the reason is staffing,” Scher said. “It’s very expensive to provide 24-hour staffing.”

That means staff cuts will come with the closing of the program, but Scher said he did not yet know how many employees the agency will lose. In all, Saint Andre Home employs nearly 30 people.

Scher said the agency will continue to offer services such as clinical care and case management for pregnant women and new mothers; there just won’t be a live-in program.

Starling Place houses up to five women at a time, who often enroll in their first or second trimester of pregnancy and stay a month to a few months after giving birth, Scher said. Many of the women it serves are homeless or struggling with substance abuse.

Scher said the agency also made the decision to shut down its adoption program to funnel more of the limited funding it still receives from the sisters, the board’s cash reserve and government sources into two of its newer programs: the Center for Parenting and Play, which opened in 2014, and Hope Rising, which opened in May 2015.

These two programs are “really meeting the needs of the community,” Scher said.

The Biddeford-based Center for Parenting and Play provides therapy for parents and their children, case management and low-cost supported visitation.

Hope Rising, which is in an undisclosed location outside of Biddeford, provides comprehensive services, including housing, to survivors of sex trafficking; it is the first program of its kind in the state.

“It seems that virtually every day there’s some kind of arrest, some kind of story that relates to human trafficking, sex trafficking,” Scher said. “ We’re very focused on making a success of this program.”

Hope Rising has already shown its potential, he said. For example, one woman in the program has enrolled in college; another hopes to start a small business.

Vicky Edgerly, the director of Biddeford’s Health and Welfare Office, said this morning that she was “shocked and dismayed” to learn the news of the closings.

“Saint Andre (Home) has provided such a valuable service over the years to our young mothers,” Edgerly said. “They’ve needed the help, the guidance, the training. … Being given the opportunity to learn how to parent made it possible for these moms to have kids, have the kids born healthy and to get a good start in life. “

With the closing of a similar program a couple of years ago, Edgerly said there will now be no live-in program for needy soon-to-be mothers in Biddeford, and she expects many will have to turn to couch-surfing or other options that leave them vulnerable.

Edgerly said she hopes the news will “outrage the community” and perhaps spark efforts to keep the two programs open in some capacity.


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