York County has the ineffable Don Jean to thank for the development of so many resources for the homeless in southern Maine. In 35 years, Jean has transformed a fledgling homeless shelter, providing alcohol abuse services in the crumbling Alfred County jail, into a human services organization that serves 400 clients at a time. Nine out of 10 of these clients are struggling with substance abuse or mental health disorders. York County Shelter Programs operates an emergency shelter in Alfred and now owns more than 20 residences across York County, as well as a working farm and a bakery.
This organization believes the cycle of homelessness can only be ended if clients are provided with more than a bed. So part of York County Shelter Programs’ work is aimed at giving their clients a shot at living independent, healthy lives. Rehabilitation may include vocational training at the organization’s bakery or on the farm in West Newfield. In 2012, York County Shelter Programs partnered with Serenity House in Portland to provide a residential program for men struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, dual diagnosis and co-dependency.
Accommodations and Food
Clients without cars are in luck. Serenity House is just a block away from Congress Street, the main road through Portland, Maine’s prosperous coastal city. The house is a three-story red and white colonial with 40 beds where men share bedrooms, bathrooms and common areas. A full-time chef prepares three meals a day for the clients and dietary restrictions can be accommodated.
At Angers Farm, named for one of the program’s original long-term residents, the white clapboard farmhouse has 10 beds. Residents, who stay for as long as it takes them to get well and acclimated to living a sober lifestyle, help out with the farm’s operation, taking care of the animals and tending 105 acres of land. They also participate in meal preparation, making use of all they produce on the farm.
Treatment and Staff
Serenity House treats clients for drug and alcohol addiction, dual diagnosis, co-dependency and relationship issues. Because the house treats a range of addictions, each client’s recovery plan is individualized; there is no standard length of stay. Detox is not offered on-site, so clients are expected to arrive sober and maintain abstinence during their stay at Serenity House. After intake, clients are assigned a counselor with whom they meet for weekly individual therapy. Counselors also supervise group therapy and lead group recreational outings.
York County Shelter Programs is not based on the 12 steps like so many other rehabs; the focus is on life skills training. Some group discussions focus on the cycle of addiction and how to prevent relapse. Others help clients plan for building sober lives, educating them about how to seek employment and rebuild relationships with family and friends.
Serenity House is staffed with licensed drug and alcohol counselors, registered drug and alcohol counselors and drug counseling aides. Clients with dual diagnosis who need further psychiatric attention are referred to outside sources and that treatment is incorporated into their substance abuse schedule.
Beds are hard to come by at York County Shelter Programs’ farm, given its limited capacity. The substance abuse treatment program at Angers Farm is officially six months long, though many clients stay longer. The time spent taking care of animals and crops and maintaining the land is at the center of the Angers Farm recovery program. The idea is to be of service and practice accountability. Residents interviewed by a local newspaper for a story on the farm raved about the program’s impact on their recovery.
York County Shelter Programs operates an emergency shelter in Alfred and 26 houses for homeless men and women. Fifteen of these are in Sanford, York County’s biggest city. These people are not accepted as clients on the basis of being addicts like they are at Serenity House and Angers Farm; nevertheless, a vast majority do struggle with drug and alcohol abuse and counseling is available to them at every residence. Additional support services to shelter residents of York County include legal assistance, educational opportunities, crisis counseling, benefits assistance and in some cases, employment.
York County Shelter Programs owns and operates the historic bakery at Notre Dame in Alfred, staffing it with clients. The bakery serves the general public, but also provides meals to the York County shelter around the corner.
One notable accomplishment of York County Shelter Programs is its embrace of eco-friendly practices. It was the first of Maine’s shelters to run on solar panels, using renewable energy. They are vigilant about recycling, composting and using high-efficiency insulation to save energy.
Serenity House clients receive education about physical health and wellness. They are encouraged to use the local YMCA in their free time. The facility also has basketballs and sports equipment available for clients to use.
The Portland Press Herald wrote a flattering and in-depth profile of Don Jean last year, which describes in detail the expansion of York County Shelter Programs. While there are many beds and services offered, wait lists can still be long. It’s worth the trouble: the staff at York County Shelter Programs is devoted to rebuilding lives from the ground up.
York County Shelter Programs
147 Shaker Hill Rd
Alfred, ME 04002
York County Shelter Programs Cost: Sliding scale. Reach York County Shelter Programs by phone at (207) 324-1137 or by email at [email protected]. Find York County Shelter Programs on Facebook, Twitter and Google+
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