AUGUSTA — Dozens of unhoused residents got together with city officials, business owners, homeless shelter representatives, volunteers and others in a first-of-its-kind listening session in Augusta that drew a crowd of nearly 100.

Rhye Duffany, who has been a guest at the Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center, speaks Tuesday during a listening session at Lithgow Library in Augusta. Duffany plans to live in a tent when the shelter closes at the end of the month and said he fears being evicted by police. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

As the May 1 closing date for the Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center approaches, many who have been sheltering there said they do not know where they will sleep.

With overnight camping not allowed on city property — and not permitted by many private landowners — several unhoused people said they fear eviction by police.

“I heard police are going in and cutting up tents and stuff like that. I’m going to be in a tent next week, and I’m really worried about that,” said Rhye Duffany at the event held Tuesday evening at Lithgow Library. “I had a friend who got evicted at 2 a.m., in the rain.”

City police have had to shut down homeless encampments before, an officer at the session said. But he said police give people camping on city property advance notice that they have to leave before removing any campsites. Officers follow a protocol based on guidance from the Office of the Maine Attorney General, which includes offering people referrals to services in the community.

“As far as cutting up tents, our guys would not do that,” said Lt. Jesse Brann, patrol division commander for Augusta Police. If such activity by officers were to happen, people should report it, he added.


Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins left, listens as Debbie Mattson, a volunteer with the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Augusta, speaks during a listening session Tuesday at Lithgow Library in Augusta. The church hosted a breakfast for unhoused people on Saturday mornings throughout the winter. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Brann said the only time police would remove tents is if they are left behind, like discarded trash, at a site.

Two city councilors at the meeting, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins and At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen, expressed interest in the city setting aside a spot in Augusta where unhoused people could camp.

“I’m really worried that in the next couple of days that the overnight warming center is going to shut down, and I’m worried about where my friends are going to go,” Gary-Allen said. She committed to sponsoring a proposal to look at the city’s ordinances and where people could be allowed to set up tents.

Judkins already had a discussion item, titled “Project Homestead,” put on the agenda for councilors to take up at their Thursday meeting. He said the discussion will include where people could be allowed to set up tents.

“If all we can do is offer a tent, we’re going to do our best to find a spot,” for them to be, Judkins said.

Victoria Abbott, executive director of Bread of Life Ministries, told attendees the nonprofit organization — which now operates a family shelter with 44 beds and veterans shelter with 14 beds, as well as a soup kitchen, in Augusta — plans to open a low-barrier homeless shelter with 18 beds and room to grow next fall.


Aaron Wiedemann, an unhoused Augusta man, estimated there are about 100 unhoused people in Augusta.

Wiedemann ran Tuesday’s session, which was organized by unhoused people and volunteers. The conversation focused on what went well with the overnight center in its first year of operation and what could be more helpful there; what help unhoused people need while the center is closed this summer and fall; and what advice could help unhoused people or help prevent more people from becoming unhoused.

Downtown business owners said they want to be welcoming to unhoused people but said bad behavior by a few of them — including leaving needles from drug use on their property, begging customers for money and leaving their bathrooms a mess after using them to clean up — can stigmatize other unhoused people.

“I see a lot of my regulars here, they come in and support my business,” said Ryan Hill, an owner of Wrapped Up Coffee House. “I see a lot of respect in them. But that’s tarnished by the few who don’t (show respect to others). I’ve found needles in my toilet, people have come in and used the bathroom as a shower. My job is to provide a warm space for our community. I can’t have that when my staff are afraid to take out the trash because there are needles in it.”

Chris Shaw, an owner of John Sullivan’s Pub, also reported finding needles on the downtown business’s property. He said he hires homeless people but he had not seen many of the unhoused people at Tuesday’s meeting come into his restaurant looking for work.

Wrapped Up Coffee House & Kitchen co-owner Ryan Hill speaks Tuesday during a listening session with unhoused people at Lithgow Library in Augusta. He said he wants to be welcoming to homeless people but bad behavior by a few — including leaving needles from drug use in the restaurant’s toilets — has been a challenge. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Debbie Mattson, a volunteer with Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Augusta, said it was important to recognize Wiedemann and other unhoused residents for organizing the session, coming forward with helpful suggestions and discussing issues impacting unhoused people and their communities. The church hosted a breakfast for unhoused people on Saturday mornings throughout the winter and plans to hold more listening sessions there in the future.

Jacqui Clark of Hallowell, a co-facilitator, said the idea for Tuesday’s session grew after she and other volunteers met the unhoused people involved in the meeting during “Suds up Sunday,” a program at the Kennebec Valley YMCA in which unhoused people are invited to use the showers and other facilities there on Sundays. That effort started in response to volunteers learning guests of the Augusta Emergency Overnight Center have to be out of that facility by 7 a.m. each day, on weekends there is no place for them to go, and that there is no shower at the overnight center.

Bryan Blystone, an unhoused man who said he’s been in town for about three weeks, said other places he has traveled through had property, and in some cases buildings, where unhoused people could set up their tents to stay overnight. He suggested the former KMart building, a vacant, privately owned property off Western Avenue, would be great for such a facility. He also said cleanliness is hard to maintain as an unhoused person because there is no place where they can wash their clothes.

Brandon Long, 30, who said he’s been unhoused since he was 12-years-0ld, said unhoused people could use a facility with storage lockers where they could leave their belongings, rather than taking them with them everywhere they go, or risking them being stolen.

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