Homelessness up 8 percent in Maine

PORTLAND, Maine -A survey of Maine’s homeless population counted nearly 1,200 people who didn’t have a place to live one night in January.

Volunteers canvassed the state counting the number of people living in shelters, cars and even tents.

The Maine State Housing Authority’s annual Point in Time survey found that the number of homeless Mainers jumped 8 percent. 1,175 people were identified as homeless — up from 1,050 in 2012.

Nearly half of the homeless population is in Portland.

At the Oxford Street shelter, when the 154 beds are taken, the assistant director said people in need are sent to the overflow site — room for 75 more who sleep on the floor of the Preble Street Resource Center.

“We don’t turn folks away and we are very proud of that. We expand to meet the need. If someone shows up at our steps, we’re going to help them, so we get folks coming from other towns in Maine as well as other states because shelters everywhere — nationally, statewide, everywhere — are bursting at the seams,” said Rob Parritt, assistant director at the Oxford Street Shelter.

Of the 480 people considered homeless in Portland, there are 297 families and 169 children.

Homeless advocates said the increase can be blamed on the economy — people lost their jobs and their homes.

Jobs and education are key to turning the tide when it comes to homelessness, said Donna Yellen at the Preble Street Resource Center.

“I know many young people here who are getting their GEDs, working on their education, who are so proud of a job, a part-time job that they’re about to get or hoping to get or have just gotten. People want to work. They want to feel good about themselves. We need to create changes in our state and our society so that those opportunities are available to all,” said Yellen.

The Point in Time Survey provides a snapshot of Maine’s homeless population on one particular night. The housing authority says 7,745 different people sought refuge last year in homeless shelters across the state.