Mission: A durable solution to homelessness, through shelter, livelihood, and community. We aim to provide, not only a place to live, but an opportunity to develop a livelihood.
This project arises out of an old and time tested idea which we are applying to a new and unprecedented situation. There are other projects addressing the needs of the chronically homeless and unemployed, but none so far as we know doing this through developing a working collaborative made up from this same constituency, in order to create a resource out of the same dilemma in which they find themselves. This is the Emmaus idea, which came into being right after World War II in France, where the situation was worse than anything we have yet experienced in the U.S. (see History of Emmaus).
The HOMEtogether project has developed out of the work we have been doing in the Good Samaritan ministry at the United Church of Christ in Bath, a problem-solving and trouble-shooting resource for people who are falling through the cracks in the social safety net. You can read more about the Good Sam ministry on the UCC website, www.faithinbath.org. A number of the HOMEtogether volunteers and Board members have faced this sort of difficulty themselves, and have an inside view of the obstacles to be overcome, as well as a broad personal acquaintance among the constituency that we intend to serve.
We are inspired to start an Emmaus community in Bath at this time because last winter every homeless shelter in Maine was turning people away. The exception was the Preble Street Center in Portland, where no one is ever turned away, but people sometimes sleep sitting up because there is no room to sleep lying down. Families are turning up in church parking lots, living in their cars. One family put up a tent, in the rain, in the Walmart parking lot. At the same time, there are empty, abandoned houses in the middle of Bath. We learned that if we actually succeeded in building another shelter, there would be no money to run it. We can do better than this. We are looking for space in Bath which could serve as residence, office and storefront for an Emmaus community.
HOMEtogether will be a place to go for those who may be barred from the “job market “ by for example, an old police record, a mental health history or an addiction history, age or educational limitations etcetera.. Residence at HOMEtogether will be for as long as needed for people who are ready to move in a new direction with their lives. Many of the jobless and homeless in our area actually have construction experience, but the construction industry in Bath, as elsewhere, is lagging at the tail end of the job recovery, and there is not enough construction activity to employ even the most qualified, let alone those who are handicapped by their own personal history. The purposes of HOMEtogether shall be to provide safe housing for these individuals, and to provide for them the healing of living in community and training in hard and soft skills which they will use in an enterprise that will serve both themselves and the greater Bath community.
The Companions will contribute their time, talent and energy in the creation of a space where they can live and work in an enterprise that will serve both their own needs and those of the larger community. In a word, we are looking for a dilapidated and abandoned house, large enough to meet our needs that we can buy for little money and return to use. This house has to be in a commercial zone, which will permit us to launch this enterprise, supported by the community at first but becoming self-supporting as it matures. The collaborative as well as the household will be managed by the community itself, facilitated by the Board, according to a model which has been time-tested over the last fifty decade in the many other Emmaus communities throughout the world. How this will play out in the American social climate has yet to be seen, but we have experienced Emmaus mentors to help us. The object is not private profit but community sustainability.
The enterprise we envision will utilize the toolery and skills that were developed by working together as a team in creating the HOMEtogether home base, along with the equity we have developed through the improvements that we have been able to make, to buy and restore more dilapidated and abandoned houses, this time for use by low-income or very low income families. The transfer might be by way of a long-term lease, which is the way that the United Voice Community Land Trust does it; or it might be through a low-interest mortgage, on the Habitat For Humanity model – or it might be on the FHA “dollar homes” model by which a family could gain ownership by doing most of reclamation the work themselves, with the help of HOMEtogether volunteers. We would expect to be working with the DOA rural housing reclamation project, and we will be guided by their parameters. It will take us at least a year to get to this point, and by then the resources available will probably have shifted. We will make the best use that we can of whatever resources are available, remembering that the original Emmaus community in France had no outside help whatever and succeeded anyway.
Whatever income the Companions earn will over time grow to cover the expenses of the HOMEtogether household, plus a small allowance for pocket money and a savings account (that will go with them when they leave), to pay the initial costs of an apartment, perhaps, or to buy a car or start a business of their own. We would like to be able to match their savings, dollar for dollar. Although at first we will be depending on grants and donations for our operating expenses, we estimate that we can become self-sufficient within two or three years. Then we will be looking for money to establish a second Emmaus community, perhaps in Brunswick or Lewiston – wherever there are houses standing empty and families unable to find a place to live. The Emmaus model has already been replicated many times in the four corners of the world, and it can be replicated here in Maine.
Although we are in the business of creating livelihoods, HOMEtogether itself is an entirely volunteer organization. Apart from our necessary legal and accounting expenses, nobody gets paid. We do what we do because we see the opportunity and the potential. Our immediate goal is the creation of a space in which we can function as an organization. We need a space that will serve both our business and residential requirements. We need a space that will house a core group of 8 Companions. We plan to create this home base by a sweat-equity renovation and energy retrofit of and existing empty house, learning as we go, in a process that will not only provide us with the space that we need but equip us with the hard and soft skills, build a working team equipped for a business enterprise that will, in time, support the HOMEtogether community.
Having reached this point we will go on to acquire another empty house and repeat the process, this time restoring it to usefulness for another homeless family. We are motivated, by a desire to reduce the carbon footprint of our community and to serve as an example to the community by demonstrating the potential for reclaiming and reducing the energy costs of our existing housing stock while also reducing the flow of cash out of our community to other parts of the country and the world.
.. A successful and well-documented completion of this project will not only give us a base of operations for our organization and a residence for our housing collaborative but also serve as a demonstration of our design and construction skills and volunteer resources, the basis for our collaborative and individual livelihoods.
Call us anytime at: 207-443-9005