A new warming center opening at The Second Congregational Church in Newcastle will offer 18 hours of weekly shelter and food as temperatures drop and new data starts to record those living without in Lincoln County.
The open hours at the church’s fellowship hall, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from Feb. 1 through April 28, have been in development since November.
Second Congregational’s outgoing pastor Char Corbett said that representatives from Lincoln, Knox, and Sagadahoc counties, along with churches, municipal agencies, state agencies, and local businesses, met early that month to make a plan for the winter.
As federal housing relief pandemic funds came to an end and heating oil prices reached record highs, Corbett said she approached her congregation to ask how they would respond to the hard winter.
Headed by congregation deacon Shirley Tawney, a committee formed in partnership with 15 area organizations, including numerous local churches, Main Street Grocery, and the Community Housing Improvement Project. Lincoln County Friends in Service Helping will provide rides to the center.
“It’s hosted here, but it’s a community ministry,” Corbett said. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without support from the community.”
“I could see this getting very large,” Tawney said of the center’s future.
The center will offer coffee and baked goods in the morning with a simple lunch.
One of the organization’s partners is Healthy Lincoln County, whose food security connector Jess Breithaupt led the county’s first Point-in-Time Count last week.
The count is a federally guided survey of people without homes on a single night in January. Last week’s survey found 21 families living in campers, all with no running water and some without heat.
Breithaupt said she believes there are many more; she received two more tips the next day.
She heard about the survey through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which uses results to dispense aid funds.
“Hopefully, this will push funding from HUD,” Breithaupt said. “I don’t think we’ve been well represented before. But the problem is here.”
Some of those she spoke to have been living in their campers since 2020.
“People have adapted to their situation and don’t see an end in sight,” she said.
Breithaupt called for tips on social media and from social service groups to locate families.
Healthy Lincoln County, which now accepts clothing and blanket donations, brought these items, prepared meals from Kieve Wavus Education, clothes donated by Consigning Women, and other donated materials to the people they visited.
Breithaupt, staff, and volunteers are working to connect those they visited to the help desk at Second Congregational to get them in line for housing programs.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development only requires one point-in-time survey a year, but Breithaupt and her team plan to continue them at least monthly.
Volunteers are heading out again this Friday to take surveys and deliver supplies ahead of weekend temperatures the national Weather Service in Gray predicts will hover around zero degrees Fahrenheit, reaching down to 20 below.
Other warming centers are operating this weekend across Lincoln County. The Wiscasset Community Center and the Central Lincoln County YMCA will both be open 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; the Boothbay Regional YMCA opens 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. All three offer bathrooms, showers, and charging stations.
One overnight shelter, the Faith Baptist Church in Newcastle, is available 8 p.m. Friday through 7 a.m. Saturday.
Second Congregational is seeking volunteers to staff warming center shifts and prepare food. Contact Shirley Tawney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 563-5471. To learn more about volunteering with Healthy Lincoln County, email email@example.com.
To find the closest warming center, dial 211.