Once-homeless Mainers ‘get to dream again’ at this model program

by Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News

After losing her Oxford Hills home in a fire 10 years ago, Michelle Ducas spent the money she had before landing in a Lewiston shelter, then headed to Portland thinking it would be easier to find a good job.

It proved harder than she expected. The 38-year-old ended up homeless, living at times in emergency housing in the Oxford Street Shelter. It was a tough and sad way to spend her days, she said.

Ducas was fortunate to become one of the first residents of Huston Commons, which opened in 2017 as the third “Housing First” program in Portland. The model provides permanent housing to those who lack it without preconditions such as sobriety. It has 24-hour support services for people with mental health and substance use disorders.

“This is everything for me,” Ducas said. “I can’t imagine being out there anymore.”

The Housing First programs in Portland have proven so successful that Gov. Janet Mills called them out in her budget address last month, saying she supported a measure from Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, to take the program statewide.

Under the bill, the state would support housing for 400 people experiencing homelessness in 12 to 15 developments across Maine.

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Pictured above: Michelle Ducas sits on the edge of her bed in her third-floor efficiency apartment at Huston Commons in Portland. Ducas is an original resident at the 6-year-old “Housing First” building developed by Avesta and run by Preble Street. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / Bangor Daily News