BIDDEFORD — Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford is busy every weekday. It is a place to come for a meal, to see friends or make some, a place where a warm jacket may be had, and where people looking for work can get help conducting an organized search. Recently, it has been open on nights when the temperature dips to 20 F or below, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. as a warming center.

On Wednesday, Jan. 29, Seeds of Hope was busier than usual for the annual Point in Time count of unsheltered people who have no place to live. Volunteers sat with people in the large front room where brunch is offered, interviewing the homeless.

Other volunteers took to the city’s parks, bridges and other known encampments, hoping to be able to count those who hadn’t stopped by the center.

Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center Director Rev. Shirley Bowen said volunteers try to count everyone who doesn’t have a place to call their own.

Volunteer Dennis Clark was among those surveying homeless people in Biddeford on Jan. 29. The numbers are taken into consideration when the federal government allocates funding. The count took place at Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center, where food, clothing and more were offered that day – and every weekday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tammy Wells Photo

“We want to get the best count possible,” she said from an office inside the busy center on the morning of the count. She said the volunteers also count “coach surfers,” who may stay with family or friends as well as those who are sleeping out in the elements.

Outside the center, volunteers had brought The Vet Center mobile van, and were offering up socks, blankets, coats and hats to those who needed them.

The Point in Time survey is a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, administered in Maine by the Maine State Housing Authority. Being counted is important, proponents say, because the numbers are used by the federal government when making decisions about funding services for the homeless population.

The numbers come in handy locally, as well. Biddeford officials told the Journal Tribune in a 2017 interview that the city also uses the data, in part to help make decisions for Community Development Block Grant funding.

“It certainly tells us where funds should be targeted and where possibly social service programs should be targeted,” said Biddeford Community Development Coordinator Linda Waters in the 2017 story.

Inside the center, Fayla Sutton, a Seeds of Peace intern studying at the University of New England, put hard boiled eggs in 30-count flats.

Fayla Sutton, an intern with Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford, was boiling dozens of eggs for brunch on a recent weekday. The center goes through three to four flats of 30 eggs each weekday. Tammy Wells Photo

Each weekday, the kitchen goes through three to four flats, she estimated. Sutton began volunteering at the center last fall; the intern program was supposed to last a semester.

“I loved it so much, I stayed,” she said.

Seeds of Hope is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily. Volunteer Lee Major said the kitchen offers a variety of brunch items — instant oatmeal, bagels, toast, coffee, hot chocolate, hot soup and more each weekday.  The center serves between 80 and 100 people every day — some who are homeless, others who are not, but need a meal or who come to socialize or check out the clothing offerings and the like.

The warming center is new this season and had been open seven nights as of Jan. 29. There have been as few as four and as many as 11 people who have come in, Bowen said. The warming center offers hot drinks and soup, there are board games, a TV and most importantly, a place to be out of the cold.

On PIT count day, Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center, a former Episcopal Church, was busier than ever.

In one office Nasson Health Care and Maine Public Health nurses were administering influenza, hepatitis A and B, and Tdap (a combination tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccines to those who wanted them.

“I think it’s great, what they are doing,” said Cody Lord, of the count and of the neighborhood center itself. Lord, who said he has a roof over his head, stops by from time to time.

“I come for coffee, to socialize, I come when I can,” he said.

Veteran John Flagler of the Maine Military and Community Network was there, volunteering.

“The more we do this, the more the (unsheltered) feel safer with the process,” said Flagler.

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