With snow blowing through the air at upward of 35 mph, most Bangor residents spent their Monday afternoon holed up in their homes, offices or cars to stay warm. But with few options, Stewart Eaton, 38, a homeless man, decided to ride out the height of the storm in an elevator off the lobby at 1 Merchants Plaza in downtown Bangor.
Eaton said he’s been living on the streets for a while and does not like going to Bangor’s homeless shelters because they are not good for his “mental stability,” he said. And he said the house where he was planning on staying was full.
Cold and seemingly out of options, Eaton said he found the Merchants Plaza lobby door unlocked. So he went in the elevator, unzipped his backpack, and read his Steve Berry novel while puffing on cigarettes and drinking six to eight cans of beer.
“I came here to get warm,” Eaton said. “It was here, the door was open.”
Most of the offices in the six-story building, which includes the Bangor Daily News’ main office, were closed Monday because of the blizzard. Eaton said he sat in the elevator for a few hours before the police were called.
Eaton was arrested for violating the terms of his bail stemming from a previous unspecified arrest, according to Bangor police Officer Nathaniel Alvarado, who dealt with the call.
“Unfortunately, I’m going to jail,” Eaton said.
On Jan. 27, 2016, there were 123 recorded homeless individuals and 155 available emergency shelter beds in Penobscot County, according to a Maine State Housing Authority point in time survey.
There are several locations in Bangor where homeless people can find shelter including the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, Hope House, Shaw House and Spruce Run-Womancare Alliance. Over the course of a week in early February, 146 people sought shelter at one of those locations, according to Tiana Vermette, an office associate at Spruce Run.
Still, Bangor officers encounter people such as Eaton, struggling to find shelter at other locations everyday, according to Alvarado. He said a lot of people get in trouble at the shelters for various reasons and are not allowed back.
“They seek out other means of shelter, which today is this elevator here,” the officer said. “It is a common thing in Bangor.”
Alvarado encouraged Eaton as he arrested him to go to check-in at one of the city’s homeless shelters, even if it’s not the most convenient place.
“At least they provide you with a warm roof over your head or a place to sleep,” Alvarado told Eaton. “It’s a lot better than walking around Bangor all day looking for a place to sleep and then eventually you get a no trespassing [violation] in a place like this.”
Alvarado said the Bangor Police Department would do what it could to keep Eaton safe by locking him up for the night.
“I know this is unfortunate, but he has a warm roof over his head and he gets three meals per day,” he said.