Faces of Our Homeless: Sharon, September 9, 2016
Thursday, September 22, 2016 11:05 AM
Vacation is over for the families who filled the Union campground all summer with grilling and splashing and laughter, and now it is pretty much just Sharon, her 34-year-old son Patrick, and Brady, their Pomeranian, in a small tent bought, Sharon says, “for regular camping” when they still had a home.
Patrisha McLean teaches “The Art of Photographing Children” at the Maine Media Workshops. Her most recent book, “My Island, Portraits of Maine Island Children,” was nominated for the 2016 Maine Literary Award. www.patrishamclean.com.
“The first night we were homeless Brady’s water bowl had a layer of ice on it. We’re going to get cold shortly and I don’t want to go through that again.”
It is going on five months of living outdoors since they were evicted from the family home following the death of Sharon’s mother. “A logging road for four days, then a hotel for a week where a church put us up,” Sharon says. “A hiking trail a mile and a half from where we used to live—I didn’t realize it was private property. Then Camden Hills State Park for seven weeks. We got the feeling [the manager] didn’t want homeless people there. Then we were at the Lobster Buoy campsite for nine days but there was a time limit.
“This is the only place where there is no time limit,” she says. “Forty dollars a night, almost $260 a week. It’s extremely expensive for water, power and a piece of dirt but it’s a place.”
Stacked neatly inside their tent are crates and boxes of books —“I like British murder mysteries and Patrick reads everything.” Outside is a beat-up Styrofoam cooler, a rickety cot and two camp chairs, a makeshift clothesline, and a vase of artificial sunflowers decorating the campground picnic table.
“I don’t know why, but [being homeless] is so much work,” Sharon says. “Keeping food cold, keeping dirt and grit out of the tent. Whenever it rains that is a huge thing. Getting to the bathroom and back, that is an issue. I like organization and nothing stays organized, and nothing stays level.” Recalling a weekend stay this summer with a relative, she says, “Oh my word, doing housework was wonderful. Normalcy, I guess.”
Sharon is 59 and never in a million years imagined that she would be homeless. “I hope I don’t sound like I’m complaining. Some people on this earth have it a whole lot worse than I do. People have been so kind. We woke up one morning and someone had left groceries on the table and twice we’ve been given dog food. I just look forward to the day when I can give back.”
Sharon processed eligibility claims for MaineCare for 15 years until she was waylaid by back surgery, neck surgery and severe depression. Patrick will return to construction and landscape work once he has regular showers and clean clothes for job interviews and transportation to get to the job itself.
“I can’t imagine what I would do without the homeless shelter,” says Sharon. “They have provided food, loaned me this cot, the hot plate. We’ve washed clothes there. The rides in the van [donated by Darling’s in Bangor] to get groceries because it’s hard to keep food that needs to be refrigerated. I don’t know how to go about [getting approved for state benefits to which she is entitled] and they have sent over all sorts of applications.”
Sharon’s caseworker, Chase Philbrook, helped her to get MaineCare, as well as the disability benefits that “cover her basic needs. [Before that] she was scrounging week to week to pay for the campground.” Now, “Even though she is still camping there is a little more stability.” He also lined her up with a mentor with whom to “do fun things” like gardening on the shelter campus. The Knox County Homeless Coalition’s director, Stephanie Primm, says, “Restoring hope to our clients is a very important part of our work.”
The hard focus now is on getting them a low-income housing voucher and under a roof before the Maine winter sets in. Sharon acknowledges that Brady is a hitch in the rental market but, nuzzling his neck, says, “I won’t give up my dog. I’ve lost everything and I can’t lose my dog.”
Sharon is one of 260 clients of the Knox County Homeless Coalition. The shelter on Old County Road has only 23 beds so the coalition subsidizes motel rooms and campground sites. There are 100 to 200 homeless people in Knox, Waldo and parts of Lincoln County who live outdoors, not by choice, including in the winter. To donate much-needed funds to the coalition, or learn more, call 593-8151 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.