Speaker Barbara Hayslett the District Director for Congressman Jared Golden wraps up her speech at the Sledgehammer Swinging Ceremony to celebrate the construction of supportive housing at 1 Edgemont Drive in Presque Isle on March 15. Credit: Paul Bagnall

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Construction will start next month on a long-awaited supportive housing complex in Presque Isle.

The $5.3 million project will create 13 apartments at the Aroostook County Action Program’s building on One Edgemont Drive.

The agency developed the idea last winter as the nearby Homeless Services of Aroostook shelter overflowed with people needing help. In an area where affordable housing is limited, having a place to live can help people find a successful future, action program officials said. 

In the same building, Aroostook County Action Program operates its Hope & Prosperity Center, where staff coach people in finding employment and permanent homes. The apartments will be The County’s first supportive housing intended specifically to help those with homelessness, according to agency officials.

“What we found is that oftentimes if you just plop somebody in an apartment and say, ‘Good luck, the rest is on your own,’ there is not a level of support for individuals to maintain long-term housing, and so that supportive housing was severely lacking,” said Heidi Rackliffe, director of programs.

Blending living arrangements with assistance programs will offer people some security as they work toward employment and successful long-term housing, she said. 

Homelessness has spiked across Maine, notably in Bangor, where a federal relief team is targeting the crisis as a disaster. The city last month announced its newest comprehensive plan will address affordable housing and the growing numbers of homeless people.

Presque Isle had 113 homeless residents last fall, double its usual numbers. The Sister Mary O’Donnell shelter, the only one in Aroostook County, overflowed and the action program housed some people at local hotels.

Construction on the new housing units will begin in early April and be completed roughly by February 2024, said Mandy Pooler, architect designer and construction manager of BR Smith Associates Inc. in Presque Isle, the firm designing the project.

Construction costs are projected around $5.3 million, according to Andy Jackson, principal housing and real estate development consultant for project planner Dovetail Consulting of Peaks Island.

The Aroostook County Action Program received a $2.4 million supportive housing grant for the apartment units from MaineHousing, as well as funding from a Community Development Block Grant, The Maine Health Access Foundation and the Rodney and Mary Barton Smith Family Foundation, said Sherry Locke, the agency’s director of advancement.

BR Smith Associates will work with MaineHousing to provide construction crews with a list of requirements and how best to allocate the 6,500 square feet involved. Devoe Construction Inc. of Eagle Lake will work on the project.

The 13 studio and one-bedroom apartments will share a living space in the building’s upper level. The Hope & Prosperity Center is downstairs. A commercial kitchen area, shower room, a new heating and cooling system and a commons room are planned.

The units will serve as living quarters to satisfy an address requirement on job applications and Hope & Prosperity Center staff will be available five days a week.

“There’s such a need for homes, and studies have shown the homeless population are in their position because of a hardship that happened in their lives,” said Trudy Gorneault, the agency’s board chairperson.

It’s also tough for younger people to come up with the security deposits needed to secure a rental apartment, she said.

Anyone can use The Hope & Prosperity Center, Gorneault said, including people who may have a place to live but are still housing insecure or need some services.

Unlike transitional housing, which gives tenants two years to find a permanent living situation, supportive housing can provide shelter for as long as the service is needed and without a time limit, she said.

A sledgehammer swinging ceremony on Wednesday celebrated the upcoming construction. 

Aroostook County Commissioner Norman Fournier was the Aroostook County Action Program’s first executive director 50 years ago, when the St. John Valley Community Action Council and Central Aroostook Community Action Agency merged.

“The start of the construction on this first-of- its-kind supportive housing project undertaken by ACAP is something that all of us in Aroostook County join in celebrating,” Fournier said.