Maine's Homeless Struggle In Subzero Temperatures
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
As we just heard, it's really cold across the Northeast and the wind is making things even colder. In parts of Maine, that means it feels like it's minus 45 degrees. For the homeless, the frigid temperatures make an already difficult situation downright dangerous. Maine Public Broadcasting's Susan Sharon followed one outreach worker on her rounds as she tried to make sure people were safe and warm.
SUSAN SHARON, BYLINE: They start lining up for dinner outside the Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston just after 4 p.m. One man is wearing only a sweatshirt and work boots. One man has on shoes but no socks. It's four below zero. The wind is blowing. It's snowing. And Lacey Donle is there to greet them.
LACEY DONLE: Do you have a place for tonight?
CURTIS SNYDER: I can stay with Ian, yeah, probably.
DONLE: OK. Sure?
SNYDER: Yeah. But, I mean...
DONLE: All right. Just as long as you have a warm place, dude, because otherwise...
SNYDER: Yeah. That's all I need, is a warm place.
DONLE: All right.
Donle is an outreach worker with New Beginnings, a program that works to keep teens and young adults like Curtis Snyder off the streets. Snyder had been hoping to get a bed at Hope Haven shelter. Meantime, another man from the soup kitchen offers to take him in for the night. Snyder says he's been homeless for about three years.
SNYDER: It's pretty rough during the wintertime. I mean, I try to find like a heated parking garage or something like that or like an awning or something like that to go underneath or, like, sometimes even - as much as I hate to admit it - a cardboard dumpster, you know, just to keep the wind away or keep me covered from the snow and the rain and all that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (unintelligible).
SHARON: Inside the soup kitchen, about 20 people line up for barbeque spareribs and heaping piles of homemade mashed potatoes. Almost all of them are men. Donle introduces herself to the guy who only has on a sweatshirt. She helps him score the last bed at the shelter. Before we leave, Donle gives him her card. Her goal, she says, is just to make a connection, maybe eventually help him find a permanent place to live. But she says her most pressing matter is a family that is sleeping in a garden shed.
DONLE: They go to bed with all their clothes and their hats and mittens and coat on and wake up in the morning very cold, seeing their breath and go outside, start the car and get going in the car and get into a warm place as soon as they can.
SHARON: A few blocks away, Donle leads me up a flight of wooden stairs to the back door of a drop-in center where young people ages 14 to 21 can hang out for a few hours in the afternoon. It's a place to shower, eat, get warm and watch TV, at least for a while. 19-year old Brooke Deschene has been coming here for several years. She recently got an apartment and considers herself extremely fortunate since there are an estimated 300 homeless kids in Lewiston and a teen shelter with just 12 beds.
BROOKE DESCHENE: On nights like this, there's not really anything you can do. Most people actually go into peoples' hallways in the apartments because there's a lot of space there and huddle up and find other people who are in the same predicament as you are.
SHARON: Deschene says, sometimes kids will go to the hospital and say they are sick just to find a place that's open, comfortable and warm. These hard-luck stories took their toll on Lacey Donle. She actually quit her job last year.
DONLE: I said, I didn't have the heart for it anymore. I just - if someone would call and say they needed help, I would just have this feeling of dread. And, oh, here we go again.
SHARON: But a few months later, Donle was back, reconnecting with her co-workers and especially the clients. She found that without this work, her heart ached more than ever before. Sometimes, she says, you just don't know what you have until it's gone.
For NPR News, I'm Susan Sharon.
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