PRESQUE ISLE — The biggest challenge facing the first executive director of northern Maine’s only homeless shelter is to convince the facility’s host city to continue funding.
To do that, Brenda Smith will face the Presque Isle City Council, on which she served for five years, from the other side of the table. Hired earlier this month, Smith is the first executive director the shelter has had in its eight-year history.
Smith hopes to convince council members and other city officials that municipal funding is vital to the shelter’s existence. City officials have proposed eliminating all $5,275 for the shelter from the 1996 budget.
Without local funding, people that use the shelter would be put on general assistance to support their stay there. The city would receive back from the state 50 percent of what it spent on the shelter in general assistance.
But loss of the host city’s direct contribution could encourage other communities to cut their funding and limit the shelter’s ability to receive federal dollars. All Aroostook County communities are asked to contribute to the facility, which is the only shelter north of Bangor.
“If we don’t get local funds, we would not get federal funds,” said David Caron Sr., president of the shelter’s board.
Smith was hired with money from a federal program called Project Sundown, designed to prevent homelessness from recurring. The funds also allow the shelter to check in with former clients to follow their progress in learning skills to ensure that they won’t be homeless again.
However, without seed money from local communities, Caron said, future funding could be in jeopardy.
Through Project Sundown from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the homeless shelter received $47,986.
Other grants received this year include $25,000 from a Sears-Phil Collins charity program. The shelter also received $15,000 from the United Way of Aroostook.
The shelter used federal grant money to buy a van that can be used to transport homeless people to the shelter as well as give them rides to agencies that offer assistance.
Still working at the shelter is Goldie Whitmore, who will continue with the daily operation of the 30-bed facility. In the past, Whitmore has written grant applications, conducted fund raising and managed the shelter.
“It was just too much for one person,” Smith said.
The next director wants to work with each community that supports the shelter to work out a funding system agreeable to towns and shelter alike. Another goal is to establish a network with other shelters in hopes of sharing special services.
The facility, located in the chapel of the former Presque Isle Air Force Base, also is in need of basic office equipment, such as telephones, Smith pointed out.
Before working at the shelter, Smith operated a business management consulting business. Besides being a member of the local City Council, she also served on several boards and committees.