Bath series on homelessness to focus on long-term, emergency solutions

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BATH — The city’s series on homelessness returns next week, with a focus on emergency and long-term solutions for those without a permanent roof over their heads.

The Neighborhood Bath United Church of Christ began its “Conversation and Education on Homelessness” series in January. The fifth meeting takes place at City Hall from 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25.

Cheryl Leonard of the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program will discuss the organization’s Poverty Action Coalition, whose first initiative, Community Investors, is meant to help Waterville residents gain or maintain stable finances. The Bath UCC is exploring such a program for the city.

After April’s fourth meeting, two teams formed to research ideas supported by the series’ participants, and the results are to be discussed next week.

One looked into various forms of emergency assistance, “because homeless people and people in crisis often have a need for things that aren’t offered by general assistance or the Salvation Army,” Sally Hennessey, who serves on the church’s leadership team, said in an interview Oct. 15.

Those requirements can include a new tire or auto insurance so a person can get to work. “Or diapers – things that come up that people need, but there aren’t places for them to go specifically to get that kind of help,” Hennessey said, noting that most agencies have a select list of what can be applied for, how much can be requested, and how often that can happen.

In exploring ways to help people in need deal with such issues, the first church team has been inspired by Leonard’s program. Community agencies and individuals on an email list are notified when a need is requested, and can donate accordingly, Hennessey said.

“We’re hoping that this may be something community-wise that will be helpful to people,” she added.

The second team explored a broadening of affordable housing options for homeless people in the area. Its findings will be discussed at the church’s sixth forum, “Possible Solutions: Actions to Alleviate Homelessness in Bath,” to be held at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13.

Ideas include renovating vacant buildings, having an emergency fund for hotel vouchers, or using churches as emergency shelters for people otherwise stuck outside in Maine’s sometimes formidable weather, Hennessey said.

Although the church organized the meetings, each attended by about 50 people, the two teams were formed through community leadership, which is evidence of expanding interest in the issue of homelessness, Hennessey said.

“We know we can’t solve the whole problem, but maybe we can take a couple of steps as a community to say at least we can fill this niche, this hole, in services,” she noted.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.