Letter: Portland has not ignored homelessness

I think it is critical to challenge several comments made by my colleague David Wagner about the Task Force to Prevent and End Homelessness.

Although homelessness in Portland reflects the record numbers seen in urban centers across the country, it is not indicative of a lack of response in Cumberland County. In fact, in addition to site-based housing first programs, hundreds of homeless individuals and families have been placed in privately owned apartments throughout the area, and many smaller private-public housing options have been developed.

Pointing to York County as comparable to Cumberland County reveals a lack of understanding about the real work going on in southern Maine. While many supportive housing projects have been developed in York County, none of them are "housing first." And the challenge of chronic homelessness is largely nonexistent in York County.

As Professor Wagner often points out, there are major historical, sociological, and political issues that contribute. However, any implication that Portland has ignored this problem is misguided. Indeed, during the past 10 years advocates have changed state and local policies, the first "housing first" programs in Northern New England immediately decreased numbers at in Portland shelters, and the city has proudly maintained its unique commitment not to turn anyone away from shelter.

The task force report was not the beginning of addressing this problem but rather a pulling together of many existing best practices and evidence-based models that can ultimately make a huge impact on a national and local tragedy.

Jon Bradley, associate director
Preble Street