Homeless for the holidays

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — With record numbers of people seeking assistance from the food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Maine, advocates for the homeless set out to dispel myths and misconceptions people have about homelessness.

“One of the big ones, you know really is that people are choosing to be homeless,” explained Tom Ptacek, a member of Homeless Voices for Justice. “The thing that I always like to remind people is that for someone to be making a choice, they first have to see options.”

Ptacek was homeless for about a year, and says the holidays can make someone who is already struggling emotionally and physically dive deeper into depression.

“It is a season of giving, it is a season of joy, that family togetherness, and for someone who is homeless and separated from all that, it can be a tough time of year,” he said. “When this time of year comes around, and you remember what it was just a few years ago and then see you are where you are at, it is really, really tough.”

Homeless Voices for Justice set up a large holiday house in the middle of Monument Square and removed the home’s shutters and door one by one to reveal the face of someone who has experienced homeless. With each piece they removed, they also revealed a truth about homelessness in Maine.

Advocates say 1 in 3 Mainers don’t have enough income to meet their basic needs, while more than 200,000 people in Maine are food insecure.

They hope by exposing the truth as they know it, they can get people to understand the problem and why homeless services are vital.

“I’m 45. I became homeless for the first time when I was 40,” said Ptacek. “If it can happen to me at 40, it can happen to anyone, and it is certainly not a choice.”