Franklin Countys First News

Closure of Western Maine Homeless Outreach leaves “gap of service”

FARMINGTON - Western Maine Homeless Outreach announced its closure this week after facing a series of difficult situations, Board President Ben West said. WMHO was the only social service agency specifically helping the homeless population in Franklin County.

The slow decline toward closure began more than a year ago as WMHO prepared for the end of their lease at Living Waters Assembly of God on Route 2. The lease had been a temporary one, and the church was not interested in renewing due to lack of space. At the time, the idea had been presented to move the shelter into the Holman House on Main Street- a primarily unused building owned by Old South Congregational Church. Though the idea originally saw support both from the Planning Board and local community members , the idea was shot down at a public hearing last July.

Eight months later, just as the pandemic was hitting, WMHO's lease reached its end. Board members were forced to announce that the non-profit would no longer offer a physical shelter, though they would continue to help those facing homelessness with navigation and case management services.

"We thought, without the overhead costs of the shelter we could continue to offer case management and make ends meet from that income. But the problem we faced was that almost everyone we reached out to needed a physical space, and we had to refer them elsewhere, causing us to lose that income," West said.

Case management services are subsidized by the state, but as soon as people were referred to other social service agencies that funding disappeared.

"We could have functioned the way we were a little longer, but we weren't really helping anyone. We would have just exhausted the funds eventually," West said.

Even still, WMHO had one hope left: a hefty grant from Maine Housing Authority that could be used to purchase a new location for the shelter. West said they had been hoping to scrape by until the new location could be bought sometime next year. When the housing authority got in touch with West to deliver the news that their organization was currently too small to receive the funding, he knew they only had one choice.

"It was clear we just couldn't do it financially," West said.

The closure isn't just bad news for the WMHO employees who now face unemployment, West said, it's bad news for the many homeless people of Franklin County who will now have to move away from their hometown to find a warm bed or a meal.

"It decentralizes the local support. It leaves a gap of service," West said. "People don't realize how many homeless people are here. Not everyone is sitting out pan handling, but it's prevalent."

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