A proposal to convert the Green Street United Methodist Church building in Augusta into a comprehensive facility to help homeless people heads to the Augusta Planning Board Tuesday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Depending on whom you ask, plans to create a new homeless shelter at a Green Street church site could either ease or worsen problems in a neighborhood where some Augusta merchants say a growing number of people who are homeless threaten their livelihoods and make people feel unsafe.

People on both sides of the issue agree that no one should go without shelter, but they don’t agree how or where shelter should be provided.

A proposal to convert the Green Street United Methodist Church into a 40-bed homeless shelter and community center goes to the Augusta Planning Board Tuesday, where organizers are seeking a conditional use permit that would allow the project to go forward.

The church was listed for sale after congregation members determined their dwindling numbers no longer needed or could afford to maintain such a large property. Shelter advocates are raising money to buy the church property, but haven’t yet reached their goal.

Advocates say it would provide much-needed overnight shelter to people who are unhoused and connect them to a range of services to help find jobs and permanent housing, address mental health and substance use problems, and help get them off the streets where they may cause problems.

“All you need to do is drive through the city and you can see it’s needed, the problem is growing,” Betty St. Hilaire, an organizer of the proposed United Community Living Center , said. “Many (local people who are homeless) really want to move forward and just experience too many barriers and give up. But with the proper services and supports, many will be able to move forward and do better than living outdoors.”


Opponents, while noting they are not against helping people who are homeless, say the church location close to the downtown neighborhood is not the right place. They are concerned a shelter will attract people who are homeless from all over the state.

“This would be a large low-barrier facility,” attorney Walter McKee, whose State Street law firm, McKee Morgan Attorneys, is next door to the church property, said. “This means the shelter would not require a person to be sober or even provide identification, and there will be no guarantee that the people with severe drug disorders in fact receive services. There would be no background checks at all, and no requirement that the people coming there actually live in Augusta. On that note, given the plans, this would draw people not just from Augusta but from pretty much everywhere near and far. This would be a magnet for the unhoused.”

Low-barrier shelters generally accept people who are actively using drugs or alcohol, have criminal records or are sex offenders, who might not be allowed into family homeless shelters.

Tobias Parkhurst, owner or partner in multiple downtown buildings and businesses, said a good downtown has a mix of socio-economic groups.

Since the Augusta Overnight Warming Center opened last winter at the South Parish Congregational Church, he said, Augusta has seen an influx in people who are homeless due to the availability of services.  That has created an imbalance downtown, he said, with a concentration of people who are homeless.

He said newcomers who are homeless have been causing problems for downtown businesses and residents. Those problems are likely to get worse if a larger homeless shelter opens up just up the hill from downtown.


“When you open a service that attracts the toughest customers from outside the city, you’re bound to create an imbalance,” he said. “Am I against the concept of this (homeless shelter)? Absolutely not; it’s vital. Am I against the location? Yeah, I think there are more appropriate locations. I’ve talked to a lot of folks about this — merchants, homeless people, advocates — and I want to do the right thing. We’ve all been touched by the opioid crisis, by the housing crisis, no one is immune to it. But it’s about doing the appropriate thing in the appropriate location that’s appropriately coordinated.”

St. Hilaire said people who are homeless wouldn’t flock to Augusta simply because the new shelter opened, and there is enough demand for shelter space from people who are homeless already in Augusta.

“This population, they tend to stay anchored, that’s what research is showing,” Jacqui Clark said.

Clark has organized Our Unhoused Response System, or OURS, a local email group of volunteers who try to meet the needs of local people who are homeless.

The center should help prevent problems between downtown merchants and people who are homeless, she said, because services will be offered to those who want them at a community center proposed as part of the project. There, community health workers would offer to help shelter guests during the day, when they won’t be allowed to remain in the shelter itself, and connect them to services that could help address some of the issues that resulted in them being homeless.

“It’s a high-touch model, with services during the day so they could try to move people forward,” she said. “So, a shelter that has the intention to draw people toward it, to keep a relationship with (homeless guests) can be a change agent, and help the downtown feel the relief from that, because people will have a place to go.”


Cheryl Clukey visited about 12 businesses downtown last week and asked how they had been affected by the unhoused population that frequents downtown. The Augusta resident said she was stunned to hear about people defecating and urinating outside businesses’ doors, taking money from tip jars, and demanding food.

Clukey wants to help the homeless but doesn’t favor the Green Street church site. She suggested other area municipalities should help shoulder the burden and open homeless shelters, not just Augusta. She said the proposal would alter the Green Street neighborhood for a long time.

McKee said the shelter would surely decrease property values in the neighborhood.

St. Hilaire said the Green Street neighborhood already has been altered and has group homes, a needle exchange, the county jail and county offices. She said they’ve looked at many other properties but none offered the advantages of the church property, which has an elevator, a sprinkler system and security cameras as well as accessibility for people with disabilities.

While St. Hilaire declined to disclose how much they’ve raised toward the $650,000 purchase price, she said they’re making good progress, including receiving a $100,000 donation from an anonymous donor. She’s confident they’ll raise the funds.

Donations may be made through the group’s website unitedcommunitylivingaugusta.com, or mailed to PO Box 2331, Augusta, ME, 04330.

Parkhurst said he’s spoken to shelter organizers and considers them good people trying hard to do a good thing. But he said they don’t have the right location and haven’t worked to ensure what they want to offer is done in a coordinated way.

St. Hilaire said her organization has met with people who have concerns and worked hard to try to address them.

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