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Grassroots Effort to Meet the Basic Needs of Vulnerable During Cold Snap
01/25/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Temperatures are finally beginning to warm up a bit after the nearly week-long, deep freeze. The cold snap has forced cities and towns across Maine to open up additional space for homeless people, who can't find beds at already-packed shelters. Cash-strapped social service agencies and shelters have also sent out urgent appeals to the public for donations of blankets, winter coats, warm socks, scarves, hats, mittens and long johns.

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Nathan Lawrence is homeless. It's been that way, on and off, for about a year, he said. Lawrence is a thoughful-looking young man. He wears professorial glasses and a neatly-trimmed beard. He said he's been here, at the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, for about two or three weeks.

"I was breakin' up with my girlfriend. It was her place," Lawrence said. "I had to move out. I had nowhere to go. I don't have family around here anymore and had to come to the shelter."

The shelter, on Main St. near the Penobscot River, has 38 permanent beds and sets up an extra five cots in a TV room in the winter, when the temperatures drop. There are no vacancies here. The average stay is more than a month. Residents are expected to be alcohol and drug free. Lawrence, who said he just quit using synthetic marijuana, arrived here with nothing, right before the temperature plummeted.

"It's humbling," Lawrence said. "If I wasn't in Bangor, I probably be out in a tent somewhere. Every piece of clothing I have is donated from here. They give me my hat, my scarves, my gloves, heavy coat."

"You get lunch? How was it? Pretty good? Mac and cheese, potato, roast beef, sautéed mushrooms, assorted veggies, pork and turkey," said Dennis Marble, the shelter's executive director.

According to Marble, Hollywood Slots, the casino in Bangor, donated leftovers from their buffet tables. When the arctic freeze hit, Marble said the shelter didn't have enough clothes to outfit all its residents.

"One of our employees who just walked by, Courtney, put a note up on Facebook about our need, currently, for backpacks, belts and outerwear," Marble said. "And within 72 hours, we outfitted everybody and more."

The donations, it turns out, are still coming in.

"I'm lucky that I have a house, and a home and its warm," said Sherry Brown who dropped off donations. "And a lot of people don't."

Baron was among those who dropped off some clothing at the shelter.

Sherry Brown: "And if we don't need the stuff, someone else does."
Jay Field: "So what did you bring in today? I brought boots, coats, hats, warm socks...I think that was it."

The Bangor shelter has gotten so many donations that it's started sending clothes to other agencies in the area. It's a problem officials in Portland wish they had right now.

"Our donations have been down over the past few years and it would be great if the community could help us," said Nicole Clegg, Communications Director for the City of Portland.

She said homelessness in the city is on the rise. In recent days, the demand has been so great that the city has had to turn the waiting room at its social services department into an emergency shelter.

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