Augusta Lawmaker Fighting For Vets Homeless Shelter 

A state lawmaker’s plan to turn a pair of abandoned, state owned buildings into housing for homeless veterans has hit a snag.

The two buildings are located on located on Arsenal Heights Drive, behind the old Augusta Mental Health Institute facility in Augusta and have been sitting vacant for the past few years. The buildings are currently scheduled for demolition, which would cost taxpayers around $100,000. But Augusta Republican Corey Wilson, a United States Marine Corps veteran, has a plan to put them to good use.

“The idea essentially is utilizing these properties to house homeless veterans and transitioning veterans,” Wilson said Thursday. “What I did was I reached out to Bread of life Ministries and approached Dean Lachance and asked him if he would be interested in these properties.”

Currently there’s only one shelter in Maine designated for homeless veterans. It’s also run by Bread of Life Ministries and it filled up the day it opened. Wilson, Lachance and an engineer recently did a walk-through of the two Augusta buildings and found that one of them is move-in ready and has room to house eight veterans comfortably. The other building needs about $20,000 worth of work and can house six veterans. The plan also includes another pair of buildings located in the same spot but those will require more work before they’re ready.

Wilson submitted a bill to make the shelters a reality. His measure would allow the state to sell the buildings for the exclusive use of homeless veterans. But the bill is now stalled after it was rejected by the Democratically controlled Legislative Council. It’s a move that infuriated Wilson.

“It’s unfortunate that myself being a Republican, I feel that the bill was ultimately killed on the grounds that I’m a Republican,” Wilson said.

Last week, Senate President Justin Alfond said January’s legislative session is reserved for emergency and time sensitive legislation only. Alfond said the council looked at more than 400 bills and they tried to whittle that down to 100 for the upcoming session. Wilson was told his bill didn’t measure up, but he’s not alone. The council accepted less than 20% of Republican sponsored bills for the upcoming session.

“There were many good bills that were not allowed to move forward in the first round but fortunately there is an appeal process,” said Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, a Democrat from the Allagash. “Legislators will have the opportunity to argue the merits and urgency of their bills later this month.”

Wilson has already filed an appeal that will be heard on November 21. If his appeal is successful, and the bill eventually passes, veterans can be moved in by next fall. If it’s denied, the buildings could still be demolished.

“This is something that’s really important. We really need to help these veterans,” Wilson said. “We really should be looking out for the taxpayer and this is a great opportunity. We should be putting party politics aside and we should be doing what’s right.”