The pastor of a Bangor church dedicated to helping the city’s most needy residents is calling on other houses of worship to open their doors overnight to 10 homeless people each since the shelters have limited the number of people they can take in due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Terry Dinkins, founder of the Mansion Church, 96 Center St., said Friday that the city’s code enforcement office OK’d the building last week to act as a warming shelter. On the church’s Facebook page, Dinkins has urged other churches in the downtown area to do the same.
“The faith community needs to step up,” he said.
The Union Street Brick Church, 126 Union St., which houses Manna Ministries Inc. and the Biker Church USA, is doing the same. The Biker Church had to close its daytime warming center due to restrictions on the number of people who could gather in one place.
But that is just 20 of the 157 beds that were needed to shelter the homeless the first week of March before coronavirus restrictions went into effect, according to statistics gathered by the Bangor Daily News.
Boyd Kronholm, the executive director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, estimated Friday that at least 75 people a night were unable to find shelter in Bangor since it closed its warming center on March 16, two weeks earlier than it normally would. The shelter was able to keep 25 of its 38 overnight beds open by helping people find more permanent housing.
The Hope House Health and Living Center, a shelter on Corporate Drive operated by Penobscot Community Health Care was able to reconfigure its 54 beds to keep residents farther apart, a spokesman said earlier this month. It also has added 12 mats that are a safe distance apart. The shelter has been full since the virus outbreak, the spokesman said.
Another downtown church, Columbia Street Baptist has set up its gymnasium, which has a separate entrance from the church and its offices, as a quarantine and isolation center for the homeless should any in that community test positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. So far, the Bangor Collaborative Respite Center has not been needed but can be used and staffed if someone needs to be quarantined for the required 14 days.
Dinkins said that anyone who stays overnight at the Mansion Church is checked for symptoms of the virus before being allowed to stay. The priority has been people over the age of 55 who have chronic health problems such as diabetes, heart and lung conditions.
People gather outside the church in the early evening but are not allowed in until 7 p.m. They are given a hot meal, encouraged to use the church’s shower, participate in prayer and Bible study before going to sleep between 9 and 10 p.m., the pastor said. People leave about 7 a.m. after having breakfast.
“The hardest thing is getting those 10 in each night, then, having to go and tell the others waiting outside that they can’t come in,” Dinkins said.
The pastor said that because of the reduced shelter capacity, encampments under the Interstate 395 bridge have popped up again. The Union Street Brick Church is accepting donations of tents, sleeping bags, clothing and food. The building is locked but staff asks that visitors ring the bell.
“We are looking for ways to help our community,” said Eddie Silguero, who manages the recovery home run by the church located at the Bangor Mall. “We have some older folks in our church who have health issues. We don’t want them having to leave home and risk getting sick.”
Silguero said that he and others made 25 deliveries last week.
Dinkins said that the Mansion Church, which is a ministry of Crosspoint Church, 1476 Broadway, in Bangor, but operates independently, plans to open as a warming center overnight next winter.
“In the long term, I hope this plants some seeds so that more churches do this going forward,” he said.
To reach the Mansion Church, call 249-9154. To reach Manna Ministries, call 852-5635. To reach House 27.4, call 745-4500.