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State Officials Seek Answers as Midcoast Homeless Shelter Abruptly Closes
12/11/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

The man who ran the Mid-Coast Hospitality House in Rockport allegedly turned homeless people away and kept its 18 beds less than half full - even as he took in $57,000 in operating funds from a quasi-state agency over the first three quarters of this year. Officials with the Maine State Housing Authority were supposed to meet with Gordon Mank Jr yesterday at the now-closed shelter. But Mank, who owes nearly $43,000 on his mortgage with the agency, never showed up. Maine State Housing says it's moving quickly to put the only homeless shelter on the midcoast into receivership and find new operators. Jay Field reports.

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Until very recently, the Maine State Housing Authority considered Mid-Coast Hospitality House a model facility, an example of how to run a homeless shelter. The building is in great condition. Mortgage payments showed up on time. So did reimbursement requests.

But in late November, Maine State Housing got word that the insurance on the shelter's mortgage had lapsed. And then, spokeswoman Deb Turcotte says the agency received a puzzling phone call "from an individual who was seeking a shelter to stay in. She had gone to the Mid-Coast Hospitality House, trying to get a room for the night, and was told that it was closed."

Turcotte says this was the agency's first official confirmation that things at Mid-Coast Hospitality might not be as rosy as they seemed. But one regular at the daily soup kitchen at St. Bernard's, a Cathlolic church in Rockland, alleges the shelter had been operating fraudulently for months. She's a middle-aged woman, who goes by the initials PKL.

"I've been homeless since last February. And many times over the months I've called, and there was no room," she says.

PKL says she's still part of the "system" and worries she will have a harder time finding permanent shelter if she gives her full name. She says she knows people who stayed at Mid-Coast Hospitality House, who told her there were lots of free beds.

"He gets paid $34 a night from the government, from the state, for each of the beds, whether they were filled or not. And he would claim that they were filled," PKL says. "I knew a woman and her teenage son that stayed there for almost four months. She was working. So she was just making money so she could get her own place. And she said there were plenty of beds there."

Turcotte, with the Maine State Housing Authority, says officials had heard similar rumors and complaints. She says red flags at the Maine Housing really went up, though, when Mid-Coast Hospitality House filed its last official report with the quasi state agency on Nov. 25.

"It closed out, it exited four individuals," Turcotte says. "At that point, we knew that something was going on. We didn't know exactly what it was. We wanted to have a conversation about that."

So yesterday, officials with Maine Housing traveled to Rockport in search of answers, only to be stood up by Gordon Mank Jr, who was supposed to show up for a meeting at the shelter. Instead, someone had left a note with instructions on where to find the keys.

Mank did not respond to MPBN's call for comment on this story by airtime. Pinny Beebe-Center runs Knox County operations for the social services agency Penquis, and oversees a pilot program for Knox-Waldo homeless consortium. She says she worries about even a temporary loss of the midcoast's only homeless shelter and its 18 beds.

"At Penquis, we probably see three or four families a week who are either at risk of becoming homeless - cause they've been evicted - or are homeless," Beebe-Center says. "So losing those beds is huge, especially going into winter. Winter is coming a little later every year, but January, February, March are pretty brutal."

Turcotte says the Maine State Housing Authority is moving ahead as if the Mid-Coast Hospitality House has been abandoned. She says the agency is taking steps to put the property into receivership and find new operators as quickly as possible.


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