Topic: Adult Services

Opioid crisis response needs to help the most vulnerable

Dr. Ann Marie Lemire, medical director of the Cumberland County Jail, could have given lawmakers a raft of statistics. Instead, she told them a story.

About five weeks ago, a man near the end of his sentence was desperately afraid of what his release would mean. He was homeless and was worried that once he was back on the street, he would resume using opioids. He connected with Portland Public Health and made an appointment to speak with a community educator after he got out. But before that meeting could occur, he overdosed and died, less than 24 hours after his release.

It’s a tragic story, but not that unusual. Maine was unprepared for the opioid overdose epidemic, which has taken lives of people from every economic stratum. But as the state steps up its response to the crisis, special attention needs to be paid to the most vulnerable – people who are homeless and can’t access treatment as easily as someone with a more stable life. A bill to address that special circumstance, L.D. 1337, is before the Legislature and should be passed.

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City manager misrepresents plan for resource center’s future

Preble Street has a decades-long history of filling service gaps, meeting urgent needs and working in tandem with our partners to address problems and provide hope for our vulnerable neighbors.

Today, we are a strong anti-poverty agency that has many doorways – more than a dozen programs throughout the state, including Anti-Trafficking Services; Veterans Housing Services; Residential Services (Logan Place, Florence House and Huston Commons); Teen Services; Food Programs, and the Maine Medical Center-Preble Street Learning Collaborative, where people begin the journey to opportunity and hope. And we just recently announced that we’re expanding our services by developing a new program: a specialized healing center providing 24-hour safety, support and resources for women experiencing homelessness who are also survivors of trauma, mental illness, substance use disorder, trafficking, torture and violence.

In a story published Monday, Staff Writer Randy W. Billings reported that City Manager Jon Jennings has announced that Preble Street may stop operating day shelter services at one of our programs – the Preble Street Resource Center. As the only other person present when Mr. Jennings and Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swann met March 1, I think it is important to set the record straight.

The meeting was held at the request of Preble Street so that we could outline for Mr. Jennings our plans to establish the new healing center. Mr. Jennings expressed his enthusiastic support for this initiative, which complements the city’s announced plans for addressing homelessness in Portland. For this support, we are grateful.

Mark then told Mr. Jennings that when the city follows through on its very public promise to build a new, state-of-the-art, 24-hour homeless services center to replace the Oxford Street Shelter, Preble Street would be open to stop providing services at the resource center because the services provided at this new city shelter would make many of the resource center services duplicative. We would still continue operating all other Preble Street programs, both in Portland and throughout the state.

Neither Mark nor I at any time ever stated that resource center operations could wind down by a certain date. What we did say – and stand by – is that Preble Street is open to discussing leasing space at the resource center to the city so that the city could provide homeless services there in the interim while it builds its new homeless services center. Although the city manager expressed interest in this idea, neither he nor anyone else at the city has seriously pursued it in the six weeks since we met.

Mr. Jennings may be frustrated that Preble Street has expressed strong opposition to his suggestion that Portland revisit the city’s 30-year promise to shelter all people experiencing homelessness, but he should hardly be surprised, given our longstanding commitment to advocating for people living in poverty. In his reference to our cutting back hours at the resource center, the city manager fails to acknowledge that what allowed us to make this decision to reduce hours was that the city – to its credit – decided to open the Oxford Street Shelter on a 24-hour basis. This allowed Preble Street to continue to work on permanent solutions to homelessness, such as Housing First, and to be assured there is still a safe place in the community for people experiencing homelessness.

The mission of Preble Street has always been rooted in providing services to people who can’t get them anywhere else. We will do everything in our power to continue meeting vulnerable people where they are, addressing needs, and advocating with and for them. We are committed to working with the city and other human service partners – as the agency has done for over 40 years – to make sure no one in need of services is left behind.

Our offer to work with the city at our resource center was made in this spirit of cooperation and support of the city’s efforts to build a much-needed, 24-hour homeless services center.

We look forward to the day the city’s homeless services center opens its doors. We will do our part to help make that happen, just as we are committed to building the new women’s healing center.

Herb Janick, Esq., president of the Preble Street Board of Directors

Preble Street opening much-needed center for healing

They will not call it a shelter. It will be a “healing center” because, when you’re dealing with women whose lives have descended into violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and other traumas, that’s precisely what they need.

“They’re the most vulnerable women we serve,” Daniella Cameron, senior director of Teen Services and Anti-Trafficking Services at Preble Street, said in an interview last week. “This is really an opportunity to create and provide a space for women to come and really start that journey toward healing.”

Preble Street, the social services organization that for more than 40 years has been throwing lifelines to Maine’s most marginalized population, recently signed a purchase-and-sale agreement on a three-story brick building at 55 Portland St.

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Commentary: A broken mental health system

Behind the struggles with drugs, crime and extreme poverty in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood – described in a lengthy article in the May 6 Maine Sunday Telegram – is a fundamentally broken mental health system and inadequate treatment for those suffering with substance use disorder.

It’s really that simple.

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Cutting aid to poor people doesn’t magically make them less poor

Reducing assistance for poor people in the U.S. is a centerpiece of the budget the Trump administration unveiled Tuesday. It calls for huge cuts to Medicaid, Social Security disability payments, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, food assistance and other anti-poverty programs. It also would pass more responsibility for many of these programs to states and implement work requirements, like Maine’s, to be eligible for assistance. On the other side of the ledger, it would lower taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

The theory, articulated by budget director Mick Mulvaney, is that if poor people are offered less help, they’ll stop being poor.

This should sound familiar to Maine residents because it is precisely the false logic repeated by Gov. Paul LePage and members of his administration to justify cuts to social programs here in the Pine Tree State.

The LePage administration, especially the Department of Health and Human Services, likes to tout the decline in the number of Maine people receiving government help. What these numbers don’t reveal is that the need for help has not gone away.

Since September 2014, the number of Maine people receiving food stamps has dropped more than 16 percent, to 185,600 in April from 222,000. Between 2014 and 2015, Maine posted the largest decline in the nation in its food stamp caseload.

But that doesn’t mean fewer Maine people are going hungry. As food insecurity has eased nationally, it has grown worse in Maine. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the percentage of Maine households that experience food insecurity — 15.8 percent in 2015 — has grown over the past decade and exceeds the national average. In 2015, Maine had the third highest rate in the nation of households with very low food security; 7.4 percent of households consistently struggled to secure enough food.

With food assistance more and more limited, hungry Mainers have turned to food pantries, making an emergency source of sustenance a way of life. In a survey of 2,000 food pantry users conducted last year by Good Shepherd Good Bank and the social services organization Preble Street, 82 percent of patrons said they visited their local food pantry at least once per month. A quarter of those surveyed said they had lost their food stamp benefits in the past year, and 59 percent said they were using food pantries more in 2016 than in the previous year.

Beyond ensuring that Americans, about half of them children, don’t go hungry, studies have found that food assistance improves health for parents and children, lifts families out of poverty and does not discourage recipients from working.

Despite these benefits, the Trump budget proposes to cut food stamps, officially called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by $192 billion — about a quarter of its funding — over the next decade. It would also slash funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

In Maine, LePage administration policies have resulted in 14,550 fewer children receiving help from TANF and in parents facing additional hurdles when attempting to gain access to assistance or to keep it.

From 2011 to 2015, the proportion of Maine children living in extreme poverty, family earnings of less than $10,000 per year, grew at eight times the national average, according to data from the Maine Center for Economic Policy. About 43,000 children in Maine are living in poverty, defined as a family income of about $20,000 or less for a family of three.

Trump and LePage are right to want to break the generational cycle of poverty, but taking away benefits doesn’t solve this problem. Jobs and training opportunities must be available, and wages must be high enough to cover living costs, such as food.

Presidential budgets are never adopted as they are written. With this one’s big math errors, faulty assumptions and downright cruelty to poor people, it will probably be more efficient for Congress to begin anew, perhaps using its April budget as a blueprint, instead of trying to turn the Trump plan into a realistic and reasonable budget that works for all Americans.

MaineCare recipients tell DHHS at hearing that payment, work requirements could harm them

Judy Bullard says MaineCare is keeping her alive, and she would be in dire straits if she lost her health insurance and could no longer afford her epilepsy medication.

“If I don’t have health care, I will die,” Bullard said. “I need medication not just to live a happy and healthy life, but to stay alive.”

Bullard, 56, of Old Orchard Beach, testified at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on Wednesday at a Maine Department of Health and Human Services public hearing. About 100 people attended and more than a dozen testified.

The hearing was on the state’s request for a federal waiver that would allow Maine to impose new mandates on some MaineCare recipients… [Read more]


Maine’s homeless brave harsh outdoor conditions

Portland (WGME) – Thousands of Mainers don’t have a place to call home at night. In the winter months many of them turn to emergency shelters, but some of them don’t. It’s hard to imagine but some people are braving the harshest elements Mother Nature has to offer and are sleeping outside.

“We find evidence of people who are living unsheltered living in tents, living under the bridge, living in the woods just trying to make an existence,” said Bill Burney, the HUD Maine Field Office director.

Every year in January the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires the homeless population be counted, during what they call the “Point in Time Count.” This helps identify trends and locate the people who are using shelters and sleeping outside. In last year’s count 1,134 people were homeless in Maine which is down slightly from 2015.

In the same count the number of people living outside had increased. On a cold night in January when the temperatures barely made it above 20 degrees, 120 people were sleeping outside and those are only the people we knew about.

There are plenty more who go uncounted like Ally Boucher. She’s 20 years old and has been homeless since she was 17. She said she prefers camping to sleeping in the shelters. She’s in recovery and tries to avoid being around the pervasive drug use in the homeless community.

“We don’t do any drugs, we don’t do any alcohol,” she said.

Everything she owns is inside the tent – clothing, books, food, blankets. She said they’re saving items for a permanent living situation they hope will become a reality.

Maine homeless shelters require significant costs

PORTLAND (WGME) – It’s a place no one wants or expects to end up – an emergency shelter. Thousands of Mainers are using them and there’s a cost – the human toll and the monetary expense. A night in the shelter is far from comfortable. Clients sleep on mats just inches apart. It can be noisy and scary and it’s expensive.

According to a city of Portland report it costs approximately $25,086 a year to provide shelter and emergency services for a homeless person. Last year Maine State Housing Authority provided Maine’s 40 emergency shelters with 6.5 million dollars. That money comes from grants and the state general fund. But there’s a lot more money in play in the form of city, federal and private dollars. Some of the programs around Portland aren’t costing taxpayers anything and in fact they’re saving the city and state money. “Over the years many people think we’re part of the city or they think some of the city programs are run through Preble Street but we are separate,” Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swan said.

Swann says there is often confusion over Preble Street’s role in Portland, with even some new counselors believing it’s a city-run program. Preble Street works closely with the city as a non-profit agency and has been operating statewide for 40 years. It has numerous programs and shelters servicing the homeless population and has a healthy operating budget at 10.7 million dollars. 57 percent of that funding comes from various government sources and 43 percent comes from private contributions.

“Probably in a given day close to a thousand people get services through Preble street,” Swann said. “Here in Portland at sort of our key historic programs we serve well over 500 people each day.”

Some of the most visible Preble Street programs in Portland are even more reliant on private dollars. The resource center in Portland’s bayside neighborhood offers homeless people a place to hang out and have a warm meal. Only 12.5 percent or $168,500 of its nearly 1.5 million dollar operating budget comes from public sources. More than 1.3 million dollars come from private donations.

Swann says without the generosity of others homeless people would “be dying of hunger waiting for government help.”

Another active non-profit servicing the homeless population in Portland is Milestone located on India Street. The agency runs an emergency shelter and a medical detox facility. A large majority of its nearly three million dollar operating budget comes from state, federal and local sources.

But Milestone says it provides outreach and support that’s been proven to save the city money. The organization’s HomeTeam, which is funded primarily through a federal grant, rides around the city offering services and often intervening on behalf of a homeless person. Not only does the team provide a needed service it also saves the city money. An independent analysis conducted by a professor at the University of New England found the program saves the city an estimate quarter of a million dollars every year.

Homelessness in Maine down, shelters still full

PORTLAND (WGME) – According to Maine State Housing authority 6,304 individuals were homeless statewide at some point last year. That’s the lowest that number has been since 2010. But the city of Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter, which is designed to sleep 154 people sees on average 220 people every night.

“We don’t require people to be sober, getting treatment, pay to stay any of that,” Oxford Street Shelter Manager Rob Parritt said. “We want people to be in the shelter and not outside.”

According to the Oxford Street Shelter’s Year End Reports the number of people seeking shelter there has been steadily rising, while the number of homeless people statewide has declined. Mark Swann, the executive director of Preble Street, a non-profit servicing the homeless population in Maine, says the rising numbers in Portland’s bayside neighborhood may be addition by subtraction.

“I think we’ve lost seven shelters in the last 12 years,” Swann said. “So when those shelters closed many of the clients have ended up in the Bayside neighborhood and put more and more pressure on the Oxford Street Shelter and more and more pressure on Preble Street.”

Swann believes the shrinking services have created a bottleneck effect, pushing those in need to the places left standing. The city of Portland agrees the system is failing.

“Too often people drive around the general Bayside area they’ll just see a lot of craziness going on with people all over the place,” city manager Jon Jennings said. “That is not the model that you see in other cities and it’s really been a function of poor planning on the city’s part in terms of keeping up with the numbers and other areas.”

Jennings says it’s time for a change and the city is looking at options including a new location, 24-hour service, a soup kitchen and a place that provides services, more than just a roof for the night. At this point it’s still unclear what a new city shelter in Portland would look like, where it would be or how much it would cost.

Numbers Provided by Maine Housing Authority:

In 2016, 6,304 individuals were homeless at some time during the year, and spent a total of 327,346 bednights in the state’s 40 shelters.

In 2015, 7,020 individuals and 347,512 bednights. Average length of stay was 39 nights for homeless and 43 for victims of domestic violence.

In 2014, 7,679 and 359,558 bednights. Average length of stay: 63/34

In 2013, 7,765 and 358,284 bednights. Average length of stay: 65/28

In 2012, 7,745 and 326,379 bednights. Average length of stay: 68/28

In 2011, 7,725 and 304,524 bednights. Average length of stay (wasn’t separated): 39 nights.

In 2010, 7,342 and 296,734 bednights. Average length of stay: 40 nights.