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  • Tammy L Wells

Breaking ground for Mainspring: A one-stop social services hub in Kittery

York County ‘kickstarts’ social services hub project with $750,000 award

November groundbreaking expected

KITTERY, Maine – When you’re homeless or close to it, Kittery-based Fair Tide can help. When you’re hungry in the same general area, Footprints Food Pantry can provide sustenance.

And there are other providers who can help those in poverty too – but they’re scattered around the area – and some are a substantial drive for those who often don’t have a reliable means to get to them.

That is poised to change, with a November groundbreaking for Mainspring, a collaboration between Fair Tide and Footprints Food Pantry designed to bring several providers together in one location.

A centralized social services hub in the seacoast region is an idea that has been voiced off and on for years, those in the industry say, but a lack of funding for such entities can be a stumbling block.

Enter York County Commissioners, who sought comment from agencies and entities on projects and programs that could benefit from an award from the county’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds. Fair Tide applied for funding – and after a review and consideration, York County Commissioners approved a $750,000 allocation.

That, said Fair Tide executive director Emily Flinkstrom, “kick-started” the social services hub project.

“That’s what made this possible,” said Flinkstrom outside 22 Shapleigh Road in Kittery, where the Mainspring hub will be located.

The building, a former medical office, has been vacant for several years and was purchased by Old York Historical Society in 2014. Fair Tide and Footprints Food Pantry – separate entities but working together as Mainspring – purchased the 8,000-square-foot building with the county’s donation. An extensive renovation and expansion by 3,000 square feet is estimated to cost $5.4 million, said Flinkstrom in a recent interview. So far, she said $3.5 million has been raised in donations.

At the same time, Fair Tide will break ground on a separate 6-unit home on the property, financed, Flinkstrom said, by MaineHousing. That home will complement an existing 5-unit home at another location. A third is in the planning stages.

While Fair Tide works with landlords to secure affordable and deeply affordable housing, Footprints Food Pantry will adopt a market model where people select their food needs – assuring they get items they will need and use.

Flinkstrom said agencies like York County Community Action, WIC, and others are poised to locate in the renovated building. And, she said, Mainspring is looking to incorporate other service providers. Some may be there full-time, others on designated days, she indicated.

For Fair Tide, affordable housing and deeply affordable housing are paramount. Currently, said Flinkstrom, the agency is working with 30 households. Fair Tide serves Kittery, Eliot, York, Berwick, and South Berwick – and at times, people who spend nights in a shelter in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Fair Tide, she said is also poised to become Kittery’s General Assistance administrator and is in talks with Eliot.

“Our focus is affordable housing and services for people experiencing homelessness,” she said. The agency works with landlords who accept federal housing vouchers by offering incentives like a risk mitigation fund beyond a security deposit, a referral bonus, case manager support for both tenant and landlord and more.

According to the U.S. Census, Kittery had a median household annual income of $72,941 in 2021 – nearly $10,000 more than the state median of $63,182. But providers caution not to let those figures lull folks into thinking poverty doesn’t exist here – that being hungry and being without a roof over your head, or at risk of being homeless – doesn’t happen here. The census estimates that 8.3 percent of Kittery’s 10,235 residents were living in poverty as of July 1, 2022, which translates into 1,233 people struggling to put food on the table, keep or put a roof over their heads, and pay their bills. And those figures don’t include Fair Tide and Footprints Food Pantry clients who live in Eliot, York, or the Berwicks.

Flinkstrom said area shelters have waitlists, and “we see tents pop up,” here and there.

Footprints Food Pantry director Megan Shapiro-Ross said during the first week in September, the pantry provided food to 150 families – and, to date, was serving 40 percent more older folks than in 2022. While a more current statistic was not available, Shapiro-Ross said food requests were up 67 percent from 2021 to 2022.

The new social services hub is expected to open in the latter part of 2024. A specific date for the November groundbreaking has not been set.

York County Commissioner Richard Clark, whose district includes Kittery, York, and Eliot, among other towns, said the $750,000 award to the Fair Tide/Footprints Mainspring project speaks to several issues Commissioners ought to address, including housing.

“Fair Tide has demonstrated that they have the structure and staff to successfully complete the project(s) that they presented to the Commissioners,” said Clark. ”I look forward to the project's completion.”

Commissioner Robert Andrews represents the Berwicks, among the other towns in his district.

“I think what is appealing about Fair Tide is their vision to do something about affordable housing,” he said. “If you have tried to find housing in Maine you know this is a real issue.”

Fair Tide executive director Emily Flinkstrom said ground will be broken soon on a renovation and expansion of this property, to be called Mainspring, at 22 Shapleigh Road in Kittery. The hub will feature a number of social service providers along with Fair Tide and Footprints Food Pantry. The project has benefited by a $750,000 award from York County Commissioners from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation.

A larger, renovated building called Mainspring at 22 Shapleigh Road in Kittery will feature a new market-type Footprints Food Pantry, the housing agency called Fair Tide and its popular thrift store, and a number of social service agencies. Here, Fair Tide executive director Emily Flinkstrom points out some of the features in an architect’s rendering. A groundbreaking is planned for sometime in November.



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