ROCKLAND — Limited in hours and privacy, no kitchen, and no furniture. To some, the YMCA-Flanagan Center may not seem like the ideal emergency homeless shelter in the Midcoast, yet, the Knox County Homeless Coalition sees its potential, and is working to convince City Councilors of the building’s merits.
Contingent on the approval of the City of Rockland, which owns and maintains the building, the Coalition will commence fundraising efforts for a pilot winter shelter. It would only be available as lodging during the overnight hours, in the gymnasium, with doors to the rest of the building being locked.
In early spring, Whitney Files, chief operating officer at the Coalition, Jeanne Denny, crisis social worker for St. Brendan the Navigator, toured Flanagan with Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell, Police Chief Chris Young, and representatives from the YMCA.
During the Monday, Aug. 5, City Council agenda-setting meeting, Files and Denny, spoke of providing a light supper and breakfast, possibly at a separate warming center, to the occupants. Those occupants would sleep on mats laid out by yet-to-be hired Coalition employees. In the morning, prior to the YMCA opening for the day, the occupants would be provided with the resources (i.e. transportation) needed to help them to their next steps.
Denny has been leading a committee of clergy, community members, and the Knox County Homeless Coalition for more than 1.5 years, trying to identify a location and a way to provide emergency shelter for community members experiencing homelessness, especially in the winter months.
But, why, when area churches have been offering the use of their buildings, their kitchens, and bathrooms, and with a shelter already in existence on Rockport’s Old County Road, should the homeless committee request the large, hollow gym floor and access to the homeless only occurring after 8:30 p.m. at Flanagan Center?
The current family shelter in Rockport has 22 beds for more than 300 clients, according to Files. The barn on the property, once empty, is now full of staff, equipment, tents, and other essentials.
“It’s quite a crisis situation going on in the county.”
As for the churches, location played a factor into whether something could move forward, according to Denny. Many of the churches were in residential areas, inhibiting the type of conditional use of this nature.
“This is the first building that we found that seem to meet everybody’s qualifications,” Denny said.
The plus side, the gym has showers.
Though Files and Denny can’t predict how many people will take advantage of the Rec Center, the Coalition has been averaging about 10 people per night seeking emergency shelter. And, that is after many individuals have found their own accommodations through couch surfing and sleeping in cars.
“I think almost everybody knows that this is a problem,” said Councilor Ed Glaser. “Whether this is the best way to address it or not, I don’t know. I think it’s a pilot program. I think it’s worth trying for a year. It’s possible that there’s a church that makes more sense than the Rec Center.”
Glaser said that if the Rec Center is used more and more, it puts a crimp on potentially conflicting uses.
“I personally would like to pursue finding out what the problems are going to be, whether it’s code or fire or whatever we have to address, and come up with a lease that makes sense,” he said.
With that in mind, City Councilors will add an ordinance to next Monday’s Council agenda to officially consider the winter emergency shelter option.
If funding cannot be secured in full, the Coalition will either run a shorter pilot program, maybe for just a month or two months, just to test the concept, delay the program until next year, said Files.
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org