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April 7, 2020

As pandemic worsens, UMPI, nonprofit team to open homeless shelter on campus

Courtesy / UMPI While social distancing, staffers from UMPI and ACAP set up cots for the temporary homeless shelter in UMPI's gym. The shelter is expected to open this week and house up to 20 men and women.

The University of Maine at Presque Isle is teaming up with a community agency and other partners to use the UMPI gymnasium as a temporary homeless shelter during the coronavirus pandemic.

The school expects the gym in Wieden Hall to be ready this week for housing up to 20 adults who are homeless, according to a news release Monday.

The Aroostook County Action Program, a nonprofit social services agency, is coordinating services at the shelter in collaboration with UMPI, the Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency, the city of Presque Isle, the state housing authority and Homeless
Services of Aroostook.

Plans for the shelter were prompted by the spread of COVID-19, and when ACAP learned that a local shelter was full and “began receiving multiple calls from clients with no place to go,” the release said.

A total of 499 cases of COVID-19, including one in Aroostook County, had been confirmed across Maine by early Tuesday morning. Presque Isle has a population of 9,000 and is the county's largest municipality.

Dubbed a “wellness shelter,” the new facility is intended to house men and women who don’t have symptoms of the disease, for which the residents will receive regular screenings. The shelter will operate 24/7 and is expected to remain open for the duration of the public health crisis.

There will be a buffer between the shelter and UMPI’s remaining on-campus students “to best ensure the health and safety of all and limit exposure,” the news release said.

The university, on 150 acres about half a mile from downtown, has 1,200 students. But the campus, like those of other University of Maine System schools, closed March 22 in response to the pandemic, and most students went home. All seven UMaine universities have recently resumed classes online.

The pop-up shelter is being established days after the University of Southern Maine and a human services nonprofit, Preble Street, launched a similar, 50-bed facility in a gym on USM's Portland campus.

The UMaine System recently agreed to let the Maine Emergency Management Agency use UMaine facilities, services and staff to respond to the public health crisis.

“Our goal across the University of Maine System has been to help in as many ways as we can, so our team at UMPI is working hard with a dedicated group of partners to help meet this urgent community need,” said Ben Shaw, UMPI’s chief business officer and UMPI lead on the project.

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