More than Just Pottery

Art is Healing

Start at the bottom and pinch and turn uncluttered. And slowly work your way up. And you want a pretty thin wall.

It’s a cold Wednesday morning in January, but inside Elena’s Way Wellness Shelter, it’s bright and warm. In the shared area, tables are pulled together, and 10 clients and staff are sitting at tables shaping balls of clay into cups and mugs for coffee and hot chocolate and stew bowls. 

“Pottery is considered a meditative art and takes a lot of focus,” says Linda, a pottery teacher and Preble Street volunteer leading the session. “You can sit down with clay and just lose six hours because you get so engrossed in what you’re doing. 

I’ve always been an artist growing up, I usually just do drawings or doodling in my notebook. Or making things out of stuff I find on the side of the road or in the woods, you know, feathers, stones, pieces of metal,” shares Matt, a client at Elena’s Way. I’ve been doodling in my notebook, but this is better because it’s around people and it’s soothing and it just opens you up.Matt grew up in Maine and has been homeless off and on in Portland for about 20 years.  

Elena’s Way opened in October 2022 and classes like this help to connect people staying at this low-barrier shelter with a therapeutic environment to heal, rest, and stabilize. This healing and rest is necessary for the work with caseworkers to pursue goals related to housing, healthcare, employment, and community integration. Art is also a big part of the healing and work towards long-term stability for people receiving care through Maine’s first recuperative care program, a partnership between Maine Medical Center, Greater Portland Health, and Preble Street. 

According to a recently published study “art therapy can help people express themselves more freely, improve their mental health, and improve interpersonal relationships. The basis of art therapy is established on the idea that people can recover and feel better via artistic expression. Art therapy uses integrative techniques to captivate the soul, body, and mind in ways that verbal expression alone doesn’t appear to.  

It’s more than just a pottery piece,” adds Matt. “The benefit of programs like this is that it keeps people away from the drives as much so that’s even better. It’s something else to do with your time, so that it’s not a constant chase. Because I know it helps me with that, even though I’m on Suboxone and stuff, I still crave things, but by doing this it helps a lot.” 

The Need for Low-Barrier Shelters

Elena’s Way is one of only five low-barrier shelters in Maine; the other shelters include Bangor’s Hope House Health & Living Center in Bangor, operated by Penobscot Community Health Center (PCHC); Waterville’s Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter & Services (MMHSS); Portland’s Milestone Recovery, and Preble Street’s Florence House Women’s Shelter. 

A low-barrier shelter accepts someone regardless of sobriety, treatment for mental illness, or history of criminal convictions, including registration on the sex offender registry. Low-barrier shelters generally serve those with the most significant challenges, including acute mental illness, substance use disorder, and severe physical health problems. These shelters across Maine are currently at capacity, severely limiting access to the care and services they provide. 

Support permanent funding for low-barrier shelters

Significant and ongoing funding is needed to keep low-barrier, professional shelters open. Please reach out to Governor Mills and the members of the Joint Select Committee on Housing (listed below) and thank them for their support emergency shelters in Maine and urge them to continue to pursue all opportunities for increased and permanent funding, especially for Maine’s vulnerable low-barrier shelters.


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