Unsheltered homelessness: No simple answers

The chalk writing on the doors near the Bayside Trail says, “I’m so ignorant to think we’d make it out of this thing TOGETHER…or alive.” The hearts surrounding the message give hope, but the ‘or alive’ just scratches the surface of the despair we all feel knowing that there is no ready, short-term solution for the unsheltered people in our community.  

This human suffering so visible takes a toll on all of us. People in the community keep asking ‘what should we do?’ The staff at Preble Street wonder, ‘how can it be that there is nowhere to refer people…how can every bed be full?’  

There are many organizations and people across Maine working to find short and long-term solutions to the unsheltered crisis in Maine, but there is no simple answer. However, we know that we can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results – not with more than 100 people sleeping outside every night, in every type of weather.  

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Maine is up dramatically since the start of the pandemic. Emergency shelters in Portland and across the state have full beds every night. Even for people with a job or a housing voucher, there is no affordable housing to be found. For too many people here in Maine there is simply nowhere to go, nowhere to stay. Whether they are people born right here in Maine who don’t have a place to live due to any combination of challenges or people who fled a dangerous situation – in Central America or Nigeria or wherever – for the chance at a better life here in Maine, everyone deserves safe, dignified shelter. 

This isn’t just a problem with homelessness; it’s a problem with the systems that have been built across all levels of our society. The solutions we develop must empower people so that they do not return to homelessness; we believe that people deserve shelter, access to food, and support to work towards a better life. The solutions that we develop must be able to serve all who need assistance — from homeless youth seeking safety to asylum-seekers coming to Maine to people struggling with substance use disorder or behavioral health problems to the baby boomers who can’t make ends meet. The solutions we develop must remove the barriers to people finding shelter, employment, and housing, not create new obstacles for people to navigate.  

There are many promising longer-term solutions on the table in the Maine Legislature with the support of the Governor and we are very hopeful that soon Maine will have more funding for emergency shelters, operating support for Site-based Housing First programs for people experiencing chronic homelessness, and development of affordable housing. There is strong and sustained political leadership at the state level committed to addressing this desperate situation. 

But we need action now in our communities to address the many people who are unsheltered in Maine. We need to put in place short-term solutions that improve living conditions for the most vulnerable people in our communities. There are hundreds of Mainers living outside in the elements in our parks, alongside our highways, and on our streets – there is no one who believes that this is the way Maine should be.  

Like the people who picked up the chalk last week wrote, we have to do this TOGETHER…so we all come out of this alive. 

TAKE ACTION to support our unsheltered neighbors!

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It starts with a meal, or a clean pair of socks

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