In many ways, Brunswick is a prototypical New England college town. The respected and highly thought-of Bowdoin College sits on the hill, spreading the aura of learning and sophistication over the landscape. At the other end of Maine Street sits the old mill buildings rescued from the scrap heap of history, contributing to the local economy and the historic atmosphere. In between, Maine Street is replete with shops and restaurants that reflect the upscale wishes of the residents. Tree-shaded streets are lined with well-kept houses. The schools are mostly newer construction and provide an excellent education to our kids. And all is well.

However, we ask ourselves, is that the whole story? Is there more that we do not see? When we look, we see people who have lived here their entire lives and are pushed out of the housing market by escalating prices and a serious lack of availability. Some find that rising food prices force them to choose between eating and affording medical care and medications. Others find that physical and mental health issues, including substance abuse disorder, keep them from employment. Many are lonely; sadly, those who sleep outside with or without a tent are not as rare as one would wish.

So, what do we do? We can ignore the issues and live in denial. Or we can wring our hands and cry out for someone to rescue us. Or we can do something. Fortunately, Brunswick has a history of doing something, most often initiated by the faith community. Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP) supplies food in many places and formats that do not have access to adequate nutrition. Tedford Housing operates an adult and family emergency shelter and operates transitional housing units. Oasis provides medical and dental care to the uninsured, and Housing Resources for Youth works with teens who need housing and other support in their maturing years.

The Gathering Place (TGP) is another place that works to assist the “unseen people” in our midst. We provide a place to “be,” as one of our guests puts it. All are welcome with no expectations. We work hard to meet our guests where they are in their journey and not try to change them but support them as they carry their burdens. You can sit and be still or have a cup of coffee and/or a sandwich. You can talk to new or old friends, play games, sit, and read. TGP is also a place where one can talk to someone. Volunteers and staff are ready to listen to your story and help you sort things out. Our Community Navigator helps people find appropriate sources of assistance, such as securing a subsidized housing voucher, securing a valid ID, filling out applications for benefits, and lending a listening ear.

Collaboration is an integral part of what we do at The Gathering Place. Our director, Mary Connolly, meets regularly with the directors of the above-listed agencies so that they can support each other as appropriate. Board members of the agencies meet yearly for the same purpose. In addition, as we find unmet needs in the community, we often collaborate with other groups or governmental entities to meet those needs.

As many of you know, we received a grant from the Maine Housing Authority this winter, enabling us to operate a warming shelter seven nights a week in our facility. Thus, unsheltered people could be safe and warm when we had our Spring storms during these last couple of weeks. In past winters, we have been able to provide such space during especially cold or stormy nights, but this year, thanks to this grant, we can provide it every night.

The loss of the community clothing bank has dramatically impacted our community. TGP Board members and staff have been actively providing assistance and support to a group investigating starting a clothing closet to replace at least in part the Clothing Bank that closed a year ago. Our role is to provide counseling and support to them as they navigate a much more complicated path than any of us had anticipated. We are so grateful to be able to support this effort.

None of us should go through life alone. As we come together in the community, we all grow and thrive. If you would like to be a part of The Gathering Place, you can do it by volunteering or contributing to our support. All are welcome!

George Hardy is a resident of Brunswick and a volunteer and board member of The Gathering Place. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among local nonprofit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community. 

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