“I friggin’ love it here!” – Elena’s Way Wellness Shelter client
On a Tuesday in early October, the first guests entered the long-awaited Elena’s Way Wellness Shelter. They were greeted by a wide-open space filled with natural light, soothing colors and art on the walls, and their very own bed. Preble Street caseworkers gave them a tour, from the 24/7 café to the showers, laundry facilities, and lounge. Along with their own bed, each client’s space includes a bedside table, storage chest, and electrical outlets to charge phones and other devices.
One of the goals of Elena’s Way is to shelter individuals who have not been able to stay at other Maine shelters, especially people with mental and behavioral health challenges and/or substance use disorders. In his first days at the Wellness Shelter, one guest reflected on his desire to change the way he typically reacts to situations. “It’s a real testament to this program and how it gives folks the space to take steps forward in their journey,” shares Sam Chamberlain, Assistant Director of Elena’s Way.
Preble Street is rewriting the narrative of what emergency shelter looks like. Often, people experiencing homelessness must adhere to strict time schedules, lining up for every meal, lining up again for a shelter cot each evening, leaving the shelter by a certain time each morning all while carrying everything they own on their backs. At Elena’s Way, guests have control of their own time and space. They can eat and sleep when they want. They have a stable, safe place to stay and keep their belongings. Casework and medical care are provided on-site to support clients in reaching their housing, employment, and health goals.
“Instead of living moment-to-moment in a state of crisis, there is a sense of permanence that allows people to rest and stabilize. This creates the opportunity for them to pursue long-term goals and take the first steps to more permanent housing,” says Andrew Bove, Vice President of Social Work.
As we work to end homelessness in Maine and ensure people experiencing homelessness are treated with dignity and respect, we need to invest in better shelters. The Elena’s Way Wellness Shelter is a model for what future shelters could, and should, be.