After 41 years, York County Shelter Programs, Inc., remains true to its original mission – providing comfort and hope to people who have nowhere else to go.
The Alfred-based 501(c)(3) organization began as the barebones York County Alcoholism Shelter for homeless men who were dealing with alcohol addiction. It operated in a rundown former jail building, but that was a vast improvement for men accustomed to sleeping on the streets or in the woods.
The YCSP has evolved into so much beyond a roof over heads. It helps people deal with mental health issues, substance use disorders and other problems that lead to homelessness and to find their way into affordable housing and jobs.
Compassion and care have always been at the core of operations, says Executive Director Megan Gean-Gendron. And she’d certainly know.
Her father, Don Gean, ran the agency for 30 years before retiring in 2014, so the shelter has been a second home of sorts for her growing up. Megan, 40, took over the reins in December. “
The agency was a central part of our family – from the fi rst Mama Mia's pasta suppers that we all volunteered at, to the weekend and evening check-ins that I’d tag along on. I loved running around the campus as a kid. My dad often talks about the ‘original five guys’ – Ray, Ray, Charlie, Charlie and George – who were at the shelter when he took over, and they were the inspiration for the agency’s first permanent housing units.
“I remember when one of the Rays was presented with a birthday cake at the bakery (YCSP operates the Shaker Hill Bakery) one day and then started crying. We found out he'd never had a birthday cake in his life! That was a tough lesson. I’d always known how special this place was, but it was experiences like that where I realized that what my dad and the staff were doing was incredibly special and unique.
“At every turn, they were expanding the services to better serve the clients,” Megan says. “Those clients were truly at the center of every decision that they made over the years, and it really is remarkable. We continue today with that same commitment to the folks we serve.”
• Has 37 shelter beds for adults in its Alfred emergency shelter, where each new resident is assigned a navigator to assess needs and arrange for proper services.
• Has 16 family shelter beds in Sanford.
• Has 24 treatment beds at Layman Way Recovery Center, an addiction treatment center that’s a collaboration between YCSP, the York County District Attorney’s Offi ce and York County government. Center residents are nonviolent jail inmates who are better served there with counseling, 12-step program support, medication-assisted treatment for withdrawing from opiates, family support groups, mentor programs and caseworkers who help residents plan for life after they graduate.
• Offers a variety of support services from a staff that includes residential technicians, caseworkers, a variety of counselors and a psychiatrist.
• Owns and manages about 126 affordable housing units in southern Maine that allow shelter residents to move into transitional or permanent housing.
• Runs a food pantry in Alfred that feeds about 3,000 people a month.
• Prepares meals for retreatguests at Notre Dame Spiritual Center on the YCSP campus.
• Offers job skills training for residents, working with its maintenance crew and food services department.
All told last year, about 700 people were housed through YCSP, but Megan says more is needed. She’s working to open a sober house for residents who graduate from the Layman Way program. And she wants to get a treatment program her dad started at the nearby Ray Angers Farm up and running again.
Megan calls her job wonderful and fulfi lling. “I love being part of helping folks see the version of themselves that we all see, but maybe they haven't seen for a long time. I remember when I was really young, my dad saying something to me that really stuck and became a part of how I looked at the world: No child growing up in this country ever dreams that they’ll grow up to be homeless.
“Until you are walking in someone's shoes, you have no idea what that person has gone through. I always felt it was so important to point out that the body you barely notice each day as you walk to your office is a human being and absolutely deserves to be acknowledged and seen.”
And she loves seeing them. “I find an enormous amount of motivation and inspiration from all of the residents. Some of the stories and experiences and what folks have endured and overcome are just incredible. To be part of their process and new path is an honor and I am just so grateful to be a part of their journey.”