ROCKPORT — “This is not a homeless shelter.”

That was a big part of the message from leadership of Hope for the Future, LLC and the Knox County Homeless Coalition concerning plans for a new 18-unit affordable housing project off Route 1 in Rockport.

Who might be living there? “It’s the person who serves you cappuccino at Zoot,” local leaders said.

Two former medical office buildings at 6 Madelyn Lane in Rockport, right off Route 1, will provide a mix of studio apartments and larger apartments to serve area families. Those who move into these buildings, likely starting sometime in 2023, will have access to public transportation to get to school and work. They will have staff onsite to provide check-ins on needs, including security and social workers. The groups have partnered with the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Bank to provide healthy food, and there will be opportunities to make sure the residents have access to health care.

It is about moving people into sustainable living.

According to Knox County Homeless Coalition leaders, including Executive Director Steph Primm and Board Chair Caroline Morong, the need for affordable housing and workforce housing in the Midcoast is a crisis, especially now as real estate prices in the community soar. In Knox County, the median home price increased by 28% in 2021 alone, according to the coalition.

“We’ve got to do this in more than one location,” said Director of Development Becca Gildred.

The problem with affordable housing is also a problem for area businesses, which have been crying out about the lack of workers available in the area.

However, the leadership recognizes projects like this create concern in the neighborhood. They stress this is not a shelter or even a handout, but a hand up to local people in need.

“They are strong and brave, not lazy and crazy,” the group said.

Obstacles to working families in the area include difficulty finding transportation or arranging child care and coping with inflexible work schedules that exacerbate these problems. Women leaving abusive situations also seek help. About 50% of those helped through the coalition’s efforts are children.

“It’s the hardest call they will ever make,” said Primm of those contacting the coalition for help.

A team of 60 staff members work with as many as 759 individuals in a year to set housing goals for lasting stability, and there is a waiting list of 225 people who need services.

Those services are not just about putting a person in a room or a bed on any given night. The coalition provides case management, which means social workers or other professionals check on the wellbeing of the clients. People do not simply fall off the grid, but they have someone looking out for them now.

The organization also helps connect people with a place to stay including beds at the Hospitality House in Rockport, the Landing Place for teens in Rockland, at hotels and motels, and in tents in some cases. They make sure those they work with have enough to eat, are safe, and they are having appropriate health care as much as possible.

The group also creates opportunities for people to continue their educations or gain job skills for new careers.

“It’s emotional work,” Morong said. But she added the work is also fulfilling, and the coalition has had good luck retaining employees. “They are making a difference.”

They said there are concerns among the neighbors that they will be seeing people wandering around the area during the day or that there will be other problems. However, the leadership notes this would be home to the residents, and it would have strict rules that would be enforced. The days of people being turned out of the Hospitality House in Rockport by day are over, and would not be something that would be an issue at the new facility.

They said the next step will be to fully renovate the buildings, which are still set up in the floor plan of the former medical practices. There will be the apartments, as well as office and shared program space. There will be a playground area for children.

The construction will be in two phases with the first building hopefully ready for occupants in early 2023.

The complex is in an enclosed division with only the entrance to Route 1 and trees surrounding the property. It is sheltered somewhat from neighboring properties.

“This could not be a better location,” Morong said.

Daniel Dunkle can be reached at ddunkle@villagesoup.com.