AUGUSTA — “No” is an all-too-frequent response Josh Baker and other shelter attendants at Bread of Life Ministries’ homeless shelter have to give homeless people who call in the midst of a crisis or at a low point in their lives when they’re looking for a bed for themselves and their children.

The 26-bed shelter on Hospital Street, the only homeless shelter for the general public in Augusta, is almost always full, and the waiting list for beds, which is reset every month, is currently about 35 families deep and in the winter can top 60 families.

John Richardson, executive director of Bread of Life Ministries, which also oversees a soup kitchen and owns many apartment buildings in Augusta, turns away about 180 people and families a year – usually between five and 18 a month.

“It bothers you greatly. They’re calling when they’re having the worst possible moment of their lives, and what makes it even worse is a lot of the time, they have families so you’re putting kids on the street as well” when the shelter has to turn them away, Baker said.

Officials hope their plan to expand the shelter by adding 14 beds in a two-story addition to the overnight shelter, enough space to add four bedrooms and an office for use by caseworkers, will mean they will never – or at least rarely – have to reject people looking for a bed in their time of need. The expansion would shelter’s capacity from 26 to 40 people.

A campaign to raise the $510,000 needed to expand the shelter and an adjacent veterans shelter also run by Bread of Life is underway. The campaign’s moniker: “Never Say No Again.”

The campaign got off to a healthy start with a more than $100,000 donation from the late Constance Merriam, a local woman who died in 2016 and left money to Bread of Life, and a $33,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation in the form of gift cards to purchase building materials for the project. So far a total of $280,000 has been raised.

Dawn Wilbur, 39, of Augusta, was homeless and living in her car with two of her kids before she was able to get space for her and her now 2-year-old daughter, Alannah, and 14-year-old son, Rien.

She said she was evicted last summer from her apartment in Lewiston by her landlord of 14 years with no explanation, and had nowhere to go. She called Bread of Life and was told they didn’t have any space for her or her family.

She called frequently over two weeks to see if a spot opened up. When it didn’t, the three lived in her car for about a week and a half. Then a space opened up at the shelter. Wilbur and her family were there from July into the fall, when she moved into an apartment, also owned by Bread of Life, where she still lives.

“I came here and didn’t know what to do or where to go. I felt lost, hopeless,” Wilbur said. Bread of Life “gave me hope and the tools to keep pushing forward. Coming here was life-changing for me.”

Scott Gress, a caseworker at Bread of Life, helped Wilbur find an apartment and a job and helped her enroll her son in school in Augusta. She works as a direct support person, or DSP, for clients at Lifeworks in Augusta, a service with ties to Goodwill that provides services to people with disabilities and other barriers.

Kristy Chabot, her 5-year-old son, Anthony, and 11-year-old daughter, Alannah Gove, came to the shelter two years ago after she and her kids were evicted from their apartment for falling behind in the rent..

She and her kids stayed at the shelter for about two months before she moved to a subsidized Bread of Life-owned apartment.

Shelter workers helped her work out arrangements to pay off her debts, and helped enroll her son in Head Start.

She found a job with Century 21, which helped her get her real estate license.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have this resource,” she said of Bread of Life. “I was hesitant about coming into a shelter, but I had no other choice. It was much better than I anticipated it being.”

The shelter is also going to expand its shelter for veterans, which is adjacent to the family overnight shelter, by adding three new bedrooms to provide more space and privacy for veterans who live at the facility, which takes up to 12 veterans a night and which Richardson said is also almost always full.

Richardson said plans to expand the veterans’ shelter would double the number of bedrooms it has, from three to six, add another full bathroom, and double the size of the building’s cooking and eating space, so everybody will be able to eat together at once. He said the shelter currently contracts with VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus to provide space for 12 veterans.

Eventually, the new space could accommodate more veterans, but for now it will at least give current residents more room and privacy.

The family shelter last year provided beds for at least one night to 143 different people, while the veterans shelter averages about 100 different veterans a year staying there for at least one night.

The family shelter expansion would add 1,244 square feet to 155 Hospital St., and the veterans shelter expansion would add 888 square feet to 157 Hospital St.

Richardson said they hope to start construction this summer and have the additional shelter space in use before next winter. “It will go a long way toward minimizing the number of times we have to say no,” Baker said, “but even adding this many beds, the need is still great in the community.”