BRUNSWICK — Not having a place to sleep at night is probably what most people consider when they think about homelessness.
But finding somewhere to spend the day – especially during bad weather – can be even more difficult.
“Most places have a low tolerance for homelessness,” said Dave Deady, who has been living at the Tedford Shelter at 49 Cumberland St. for the past five months after losing his job at a call center in Portland.
Without the money to nurse a coffee for hours at a cafe, Deady often wanders through stores, where he’s been followed by security guards. Or he visits the library, where he is sometimes eyed suspiciously by staff and other patrons. Or he simply walks through downtown, where he’s been questioned by police officers.
But then he heard about The Gathering Place, a daytime drop-in center at 84 Union St. that recently celebrated its first anniversary. At the center there are computers, snacks, welcoming volunteers and a sense of community. The room is also heated and air-conditioned, and it’s a short walk from the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program food pantry.
The Gathering Place was the brainchild of Chick Carroll, a former Episcopal church deacon, and friends Ed Bradley and George Hardy. All of them are active in different Brunswick churches, and started looking for a way to help the homeless after learning that Tedford is often forced to turn away scores of people every night.
Initially, the three wanted to build another overnight shelter. But they quickly realized it would be difficult to raise the money.
“We had no credibility within the community, we were just three guys,” Carroll said.
So they turned their attention to a day shelter after realizing that the homeless have nowhere to spend time between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., when Tedford is closed.
The center opened its doors last January and quickly became a popular place for many Tedford residents to spend time. About 60 people pass through the center’s doors every day.
But The Gathering Place also attracts non-homeless guests who are looking for a way to socialize and get out of their homes, Carroll said.
With an annual budget of around $7,000, The Gathering Place is run entirely by volunteers and provides few services to guests. The activities include puzzles, which are very popular, a weekly creative writing class and free Internet access on three donated laptop computers.
“We’re not a social service agency,” Carroll said. “It’s a warm, dry, safe, secure place.”
But recently The Gathering Place has been able to help some guests at night, not just during the day. The center received a $5,000 grant to help house homeless guests temporarily in hotels.
“The hard part is finding out who the people are in this predicament,” volunteer Bunny Fazekas said in a press release. “We see a lot of people every day, people who come to spend time with us in a warm, secure and pleasant place to be. What we don’t see so easily are those people who are perhaps not part of the network of folks who are already being helped, at Tedford Housing, or elsewhere.”
So far, the center has placed about 12 people in hotel rooms.
But the organization’s mainstay continues to be its daytime shelter, and on a recent snowy Tuesday afternoon about 20 people sat at long tables in the room. Some read newspapers while others checked Facebook and sipped coffee. Volunteers Jane Gray and Joan Reynolds worked on a puzzle and chatted quietly with guest Tammy Moody, who has been coming to the center for about five weeks.
Moody said she doesn’t have anywhere else to go during the day, and spends the half hour between when The Gathering Place closes and Tedford Shelter opens just standing outside.
She spends a lot of her time at the center doing puzzles, and blushed when Gray and Reynolds chimed in to compliment her puzzle skills.
“The volunteers are excellent,” Moody said, returning the flattery. “There are beautiful people here.”
Co-founder Chick Carroll points to the Ten Commandments of The Gathering Place, which were created by a guest and include rules like “Thou shalt not lose puzzle pieces.”
Volunteer Joan Reynolds, right, talks with guests in The Gathering Place kitchen on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 31, in Brunswick.
The Gathering Place is held at the Seventh-Day Adventist Clothing Center at 84 Union St., Brunswick.