Sarah Juliano and Cassie Quinn hug in the kitchen of Cory’s Place, a sober living home for women recovering from addiction and homelessness, on April 16 in Winthrop. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Editor’s note: This is the latest in an occasional series examining homelessness in Maine.

Sarah “Red” Juliano was in a Waterville hotel room last year with no money and no other place to go. She was suffering from drug and alcohol withdrawal, and she had COVID-19.

The 42-year-old woman had been released from the hospital after overdosing on what she thought was heroin, but now suspects was the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl. Juliano had been revived from that overdose with Narcan, a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, while she was at a campsite in the woods. Amid her overdose, her jewelry and purse were stolen by people she thought were her friends.

Finally, after several years of drug-fueled homelessness – first in Florida and then in Waterville – Juliano had had enough.

“I really thought I was dying,” she said in an interview. “I was too sick to even move. I called 911 and, at this point, I was just done. I was so done with that life. It was the worst thing I’ve ever went through. The ambulance came and took me and I got to the hospital and just said, ‘I’m done, I just want detox. I want help.'”

Now, Juliano lives at Cory’s Place, a sober house that opened recently in Winthrop, operated by An Angel’s Wing, which took her in before the house had officially opened. She has maintained her sobriety for the past five months and found loving people she says are like family.

Successes like Juliano’s are the basis for a new effort in Maine to find meaningful assistance for homeless people who want help.

Since a new state law took effect last year, law enforcement agencies in Maine are required to follow a new protocol established by the Office of the Maine Attorney General that guides their interactions with people who are homeless and accused of minor crimes, such as drinking in public, substance use or criminal trespass. Instead of arresting or charging them, authorities are directed to first try to connect them with recovery resources instead of sending them into a backlogged criminal justice system.


Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said her office already seeks to divert people charged with low-level crimes from the criminal justice system to programs that could help them address problems.

“It’s better to have the diversion taking place at the law enforcement level,” Maloney said. “I’ve seen people’s lives turn around through the services that are offered.”

Augusta police Chief Jared Mills, past president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said city officers who encounter homeless people offer to help connect them to services, which can include help finding temporary housing, offered by the city’s general assistance workers. He said officers play a role in helping a homeless person in Augusta “almost daily.”

“We are fortunate to have a couple warming shelters, an overnight shelter and general assistance office that we can make referrals to whenever needed,” he said.


Mills said there seems to be an increasing number of homeless people camping in Augusta in recent years. Records tracking police interactions with homeless people show officers conducted 95 “homeless checks” last year in Augusta. In 2021, they responded to 118 such calls. And in 2020, the number was 45.

Augusta police were the only agency of a sampling polled that collected such data on interactions with homeless people. Police departments in Auburn, Farmington, Lewiston and Waterville did not have any similar data available.

This winter, homeless people in the Augusta area with nowhere to sleep at night had a new option, the Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center, where an average of 35 guests a night came to sleep indoors during the cold winter months.

However, that center was created to provide emergency housing only for the winter, out of concern homeless people could risk death by staying outside in the extreme cold, and it closes May 1 for the season. That imminent closure prompted concern in Augusta about where the homeless people who relied on it as a safe place to sleep will go.

A homeless woman is arrested on an outstanding warrant Sept. 27, 2022, for missing a court appearance. Police are escorting her from her tent along the Kennebec River in the South End of Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Julia Stone, director of the overnight warming center, said workers and volunteers plan to give tents, sleeping bags and other gear to homeless people who’ve stayed there this winter, to help them get through the summer and fall. But she and others aren’t really sure where they will go, as authorities said camping is not allowed on any city property in Augusta. And municipal officials recommend the city take a harder stance this summer, after turning a blind eye to some homeless encampments last year only to later have to spend thousands of dollars to clean up unsanitary conditions, including human waste and syringes.

“My recommendation is we do not allow that to continue this summer, and if we see an encampment starting on city property, in parks or on some of the trail systems, is we don’t allow it to start,” said Earl Kingsbury, Augusta’s community services director.

Other local departments are grappling with similar dilemmas.

Farmington police Chief Kenneth Charles said officers there do not conduct sweeps of homeless encampments. He said occasionally the department will respond to locations where temporary structures or tents have been set up.

In Lewiston, city officials “looked at several other policies put in place by other cities across the country” to deal with homeless people “and molded ours to fit our community,” said Lt. Derrick St. Laurent, public information officer for the Lewiston Police Department.

In neighboring Auburn, Chief Jason Moen said the agency follows the Attorney General’s Office protocol and “any interaction that we have with a homeless person, we want to make sure that they’re safe. That’s our number one priority … making sure that they are safe.”

“We always give them a community resource guide that has a whole bunch of information in it when it comes to clothing banks, food pantries, mental health services, recovery services, veteran services, things like that, with contact information for all those organizations so we make sure that they have that,” Moen said.

Officer Ryan Gagnon tells a homeless man in Dufresne Plaza in Lewiston that he has to pack up his cart and move. Gagnon has a walking beat and checks on various places where homeless people tend to gather. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal


Juliano now has four adult children. Her oldest daughter, Marlana, lives in Waterville and has been one of her biggest supporters. She sees her as often as she can.

Juliano divorced after 20 years of marriage and was living in Maine and returned to her native Florida several years ago, where she was homeless for four years. That’s where she was introduced to the drugs methamphetamine and heroin. She was just getting out of jail on a theft charge when she found out her eldest daughter was pregnant back in Maine, so she hitchhiked from Florida. Once back in Maine, she lived in a hotel for about a year, then moved into the Bread of Life Ministries homeless shelter in Augusta for about six months.

She became sober and moved into an apartment complex in Waterville for about two years. But then last year, after nearly three years of sobriety, she relapsed.

“Once I started messing around with meth again I lost my job, then once I lost my job I lost my apartment,” she said. “I had nowhere to go. I was doing really great. Then I messed everything all up, over a man. I ended up living in the woods, with a guy. I  looked really bad, you could tell I was in active use. I was 94 pounds soaking wet. It was really bad.”

Juliano initially had a job working for a cleaning company, but lost that job and was then unable to pay her rent. She said while there she “boosted,” or stole, food and other items to survive.

“That’s how I survived in Florida – I boosted,” she said. “When you’re a homeless woman you don’t have many choices. You boost, or sell your body, or run drugs. So, I chose to boost.”

Sarah Juliano sorts through her belongings inside her small tent at a homeless encampment in the South End in Waterville on Sept. 12, 2022. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Juliano said she uses Suboxone, which she said has been a big help, to help her stay sober.

After she lost her apartment and was homeless and using substances regularly last year, she moved to an encampment along the Kennebec River in Waterville where, she said, she found a small family-like community of homeless people who looked out for each other. When winter came last year, she and others left the campsite for warmer housing options.

She first went to Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville. She was staying there last year when she overdosed on what was supposed to be heroin but she believes was fentanyl. She was at a campsite, in woods behind the shelter, with people she thought were her friends. She woke up in the woods after she was revived with Narcan, with all her jewelry that was on her body, and her purse, gone. The incident, she said, scared her enough that she quit injecting heroin and she got on Suboxone. But she also started drinking large amounts of alcohol, replacing drugs with liquor.

She plans to stay at Cory’s Place for six months to a year, and has no plans to ever return to using drugs, or being homeless.

“It was a godsend, leading me to here,” Juliano said while chatting at the dining room table at Cory’s Place as other women in recovery circulated through the room. “It felt so good to be welcomed, I felt so alone in this world. Here I feel loved and safe and feel like I have some sort of security in my life I’ve never had before.”

Sarah Juliano sits at her bed at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville on Oct. 4, 2022. Juliano had been at the shelter for nearly two weeks since overdosing. Since moving into the shelter, she also entered a drug detox program and was seven days sober at the time. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel


Stone, at the overnight warming center in Augusta, said a vast majority of the homeless people who spent time there have used substances.

The center is the only “low barrier” homeless shelter in Maine’s capital city, which means people are allowed to stay there even if they are still actively using drugs or alcohol, though they are not allowed to use substances onsite.

She said the center has a partnership with MaineGeneral Medical Center so it can refer people for substance use disorder treatment. It also has arrangements with medically assisted treatment programs that can help someone looking to get off opiates to secure prescriptions for Suboxone or methadone. And she’s familiar with sober houses in the Augusta area where, if someone staying at the overnight shelter wants to get sober, they can go live, for a fee.

She said over the winter center staff connected 10 people to either substance use treatment programs or sober living houses, a small percentage of the people who come there.

She said most of the homeless people who spent nights there were not ready to give up their substance use.

“I’d say, a rough estimate, is 95% of our people are in (drug) active use, because it’s all the people who wouldn’t qualify to get into other shelters that are pretty strict,” Stone said.

She said for many, drug use is both a reason why they are homeless and a way for them to escape the difficulties of living without housing. Other factors, such as childhood abuse or trauma, may have set some people on the path toward drug use and homelessness.

Among the options authorities can refer people to for substance use treatment are Maine’s county-based OPTIONS liaisons, who can in turn refer people who reach out to them for help connecting to different levels of care, which can include outpatient, intensive inpatient, hospitalization, residential, and sober housing, according to Dawn Kearns, Kennebec County’s OPTIONS liaison. The state program was introduced in 2020 as a way to help drug users get help rapidly, whenever they are ready to seek help.

According to the Maine Drug Data Hub, in 2022 there were 1,015, or 30.8% of clients referred to OPTIONS liaisons in Maine, who listed their housing status as homeless, while 1,135, or 34.5%, were unstably housed, and 1,143, or 34.7%, were stably housed. In Kennebec County in 2022, there were 168, or 31% of clients referred to the county liaison, who were homeless; 248, or 46%, were unstably housed; and 122, or 23%, were stably housed.


Many homeless people say there is little to no affordable housing to be had in the area, due to an ongoing housing shortage.

Joey LaBelle, who spent nights at the warming center in Augusta this winter after he couldn’t find a place to live, said he moved to Augusta from Millinocket, with $3,000 in his pocket, and went around to the few landlords with space in their apartment buildings. He couldn’t find any that he could afford or that would rent to him, with some saying his credit rating was too low. With no place to rent, he said he stayed in a hotel, blew through the $3,000 he had for housing there, and became homeless.

Joey LaBelle talks about becoming homeless after moving to Augusta during a recent  listening session at Lithgow Library in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Even though he’s been working this whole time, he said at a recent listening session with homeless people in Augusta that he’s still been unable to get a place of his own.

Mills said city police have responded with other city departments to clean up camping areas set up by homeless people due to unsanitary conditions in them. He said if a person is staying on private property, if the owner wants them removed, then police will enforce state criminal trespass law and remove them.

Kingsbury, Augusta’s community services director, said when the city is going to remove a campsite, police give at least 48 hours notice to let anyone still living there know the city is going to clean out the area and they have to leave.

At least two Augusta city councilors said they plan to propose that the city consider setting aside a spot where homeless people could camp in tents for the time period when the winter overnight warming center is closed.

William Bonney, interim police chief in the city of Waterville, said that city has an ordinance that prohibits camping in tents or recreational vehicles except in approved campgrounds. But he said police there “use discretion when enforcing this law, as with any law, particularly as it relates to those experiencing homelessness because we are not trying to make their living situation worse, rather we are trying to help improve their quality of life.”

Bonney said plans the city has to add a community outreach coordinator this year, who’ll seek to help people struggling with mental illness, substance abuse and other crises connect with service providers to address their needs, could both help homeless people and reduce the need for police involvement.

He said last fall, as winter weather came in, he personally helped two people living in an encampment by the Kennebec River evacuate their campsite and put them up in a hotel for three days until they could find somewhere else to go.

Waterville police officers visit a tent in the encampment along the Kennebec River in the South End of Waterville on Oct. 29, 2022, to serve a warrant. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Moen, the Auburn police chief, said in the past few months his department has started up a Project Support You program, in which a contracted mental health worker from Tri-County Mental Health Services is embedded with the police and fire departments for 40 hours a week. That program worker will ride along with authorities.

“Anytime that we interact with anybody that may be homeless or may be exhibiting symptoms of mental health issues, that Project Support worker will come and meet with that person. We ensure they’re being offered wraparound services from Tri-County for any mental health issues they might have going on,” Moen said.

Charles, the Farmington police chief, said his goal is to attract and retain officers who naturally build rapport with people they interact with, who are trained to recognize signs that a person may be struggling with substance use disorder, mental illness, homelessness and other societal issues.

“I don’t mind sharing that my officers have paid out of their own pockets to provide meals, gasoline, heating fuel, hotel rooms,” Charles said.

Sarah Juliano celebrates during the 11 a.m. Central Church service in Augusta on April 16. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Juliano urges people in need of help to reach out for it, something she said she wishes she had done sooner.

She said she’s looking for work and her longer-term plans include going into ministry. She attends services at Central Church in Augusta and hopes one day to become a minister.

“Being homeless is tough, but let me tell you, everything I’ve been through was telling me what I’m made of,” she said. “I was out there, alone, and didn’t just crawl into a hole. I figured it out. I figured out how to make it. There are people out there that care, and this isn’t the life you have to live.”

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