Topic: Casework Services

Initiative focuses on those in grip of trafficking, hidden in plain sight

Preble Street is striving to raise awareness of sexual and labor exploitation and help survivors reclaim their lives.

Myriad obstacles stand in the way of well-being and independence for the people Preble Street serves. But for few are the barriers as brutal as for the survivors of human trafficking with whom Preble Street Anti-Trafficking Services works.

They’re seeking not only safety and freedom but also a chance to reclaim their lives.

Preble Street Helps Identify Crime of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is not a new crime, but it has recently prompted heightened attention and action among social services, legal services, law enforcement, and the general public. Human trafficking victims/survivors are forced or coerced — through sexual, physical, psychological violence, and/or torture — to perform a variety of labor including sex work, domestic services, childcare, agricultural labor, and restaurant work. All these exist in Maine. Maine is also home to laborers, many of them recent immigrants, who are exploited by unfair labor and immigration practices, receive little to no pay, and are subjected to unsafe working conditions. 

Since understanding the laws and systems of a new country can be challenging, immigrants can be especially vulnerable to trafficking inside the United States. Immigrants, whether asylum-seekers or refugees, may not know their rights as workers or may not know to whom to turn for help. Immigrants who are undocumented or who are inside the U.S. on a guest worker visa program may not seek help due to fear of prosecution or deportation. Some may hesitate to speak out due to threats to their families back home or they may fear losing their ability to work in the U.S. 

Preble Street cares about the needs of all human trafficking survivors. Since 2013, our Anti-Trafficking Services (ATS) has been working to end human trafficking in Maine. While ATS is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, it is not part of the government or law enforcement. 

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Maine Calling: Finding Solutions to Homelessness

Despite discouraging news headlines about homelessness, some innovative Maine organizations have had meaningful success in reducing homelessness and improving the lives of the homeless population. We’ll learn about these solutions and what it would take to expand them.

Guests: Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street in Portland

Stephanie Primm, executive director of Hospitality House in Rockland

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Maine Voices: Wealthy ‘angels’ needed to help end suffering in Portland

We are blessed at Preble Street with generous, loyal donors who, year after year, send us a check. Whether the donation is $50 or $500, we are inspired by their support. Some have been doing this for as long as we can remember. I’ve been sending "thank you" notes for over 20 years to people I feel I know well, though I’ve never met them. These donors and their heartfelt gifts save lives and meet growing needs in Portland and beyond.

We also have some "angels" who have made very large, transformational donations to keep a shelter for children open when another agency announced its closing; to open Logan Place, a housing alternative to overcrowded shelters; to launch the Maine Hunger Initiative effort to improve Maine’s tragic status as the country’s fifth hungriest state.

All the donations, large and small, make Preble Street a strong, committed, solutions-centered organization, and we appreciate the investment each donor is making to our relentless, mission-driven work.

But something is missing.

Specifically, it’s people like the couple who gave $30 million to a homeless service organization in Philadelphia to replicate successful models and move thousands of people from the streets to stable housing. When I heard about that gift, I filled a whiteboard at Preble Street with a vision map, and our New Year’s resolution is to find visionaries here in Maine with the means to underwrite those dreams.

With a fractured social compact, where government is no longer able – or willing – to support a sturdy safety net, it has fallen to private funders to keep emergency shelters open, stock shelves at soup kitchens and meet the basic needs of our brothers and sisters.

But philanthropy can do more: It can build bridges to dignity, stability and independence.

Yet in 2012, only 13 percent of philanthropic dollars nationally supported human services, according to Giving USA 2013. Human services doesn’t even appear on the list of "causes that received gifts of $5 million or more" in a 2012 Chronicle of Philanthropy report.

And, most troubling to me, the percentage of donations allocated to social services sinks as incomes rise, with only 4 percent of donors with incomes over $1 million designating contributions to basic needs, according to a New York Times report.

In 2012, of 95 individual gifts over $1 million (totaling an amazing $7 billion), only four were donations to human services – and those went to the Motion Picture and Television Fund Foundation.

None were made in Maine, and that needs to change.

Human service organizations are not simply "do-gooders." We are thoughtful, strategic, expert problem-solvers. We have to be: The stakes are too high. Every day, thousands of Mainers count on us to help them survive the ravages of poverty, homelessness, hunger and abuse.

Every day we witness these struggles at Preble Street:

• A 79-year-old woman with dementia, getting around in a wheelchair, living in shelters and on the streets, unable to access an assisted living program.

• A 17-year-old boy whose only experience of family has been 14 foster homes.

• A 35-year-old man with untreated severe mental illness, shuttling back and forth between shelters, hospital emergency rooms and jails.

• A 30-year-old victim of domestic violence, forced to trade her body for a place to stay.

They deserve better, and agencies like Preble Street know what needs to be done. All that’s missing is the power that wealthy donors alone have: the power to capitalize on what we’ve proven works, allowing us to dramatically improve outcomes. And to save lives.

Some examples from Preble Street’s whiteboard:

• $1 million would run a recovery house for homeless women struggling with addiction.

• $5 million would provide a comprehensive service system replacing the long lines of mats in jam-packed shelters and endless wandering from one end of town to the other to get a meal, register for a job and sign up to see a doctor.

• $10 million would open another Logan Place for medically compromised people living in poverty.

• Four $10,000,000 gifts would virtually end chronic homelessness in Portland.

I am certain that social service agencies all over Maine have their own whiteboards. They, too, deserve angels. There is so much we all can accomplish, if we have the means.

We’re grateful to all our donors. They underpin the lifesaving work we do. If they could, we know they would do more.

But to move beyond rescue operations, social service agencies need investors who understand the urgency of our work and who believe that all people matter.

With a few generous donors we could transform Portland, filling the cracks so no one falls through, moving everyone closer to their dream, celebrating a city where all are better off when none are suffering.

Help us meet our 2015 resolution.

– Special to the Press Herald

Preble Street lauded for nonprofit works

…Preble Street earned the top rating of the 43 nonprofit groups in Maine rated by Charity Navigator, with a score of 99.17 out of 100. Preble Street operates with a $9 million budget, running homeless shelters and a food pantry in Portland, as well as various programs to help low-income and mentally ill people…


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Preble Street to expand veterans services

Preble Street Resource Center, which has been helping low-income residents at its Portland location since the 1970s, landed a $1.7 million U.S. Veterans Affairs grant Thursday to expand its program for homeless veterans from Portland to the entire state.

Mark Swann, Preble Street’s executive director, said the federal grant will help the group serve about 1,000 struggling veterans. The grant provides a significant financial boost to the non-profit group, which has been operating with an $8 million budget.

"It’s by far the largest grant we’ve ever received," Swann said. He said about half of Preble Street’s revenue comes from private donations, with the other half from public funds [click here to read the full story on the Portland Press Herald website].

Death of homeless woman poses hard questions

When did we stop caring about Toina Hanson?

It had to have been long before Aug. 4, when her skeleton was found by a berry picker in the woods by the Stroudwater neighborhood.

We say she was 31 but she probably died before her last birthday, since police say her body may have been lying above ground in Maine’s biggest and richest city for as long as a year. No posters showed up on our telephone poles when she disappeared, no rewards were offered for information leading to her recovery, no search parties assembled, no press conferences called.

Hanson was just one of the street people who come through town, known mostly to each other, the cops and the social service providers who try to find them clothes, a safe place to sleep and some help.

So it’s not true that nobody cared about whether Hanson lived or died, but it is true that most of us did not notice her absence and did not find the news of her death remarkable.

Why should we? A homeless woman between the ages of 18 and 44 is 10 times more likely to die than a woman of the same age who has housing. And Hanson is hardly the only street person to die in Portland this year. According to Bill Burns of Preble Street, the service provider and advocacy agency, 17 homeless people have died here so far in 2012.

Their average age at the time of their death was 42, he said. Life expectancy in Maine is 78.

For the homeless, a lack of housing is just one of what is usually a long list of problems. They often have mental illnesses and or addictions to drugs or alcohol. They make risky choices about where they go and who to stay with. That was certainly the case for Hanson.

"She was a very kind person, but she had one demon: alcohol," said Roger Goodoak of Portland. "When she dried up she was the nicest, funniest person around. But when she was around booze, Toina just fell apart."

Goodoak, a formerly homeless father, said Hanson would try to straighten up. She took jobs when she could get them, like cleaning Hadlock Field in between Seadogs games. Often she could be seen "signing" on Union Street, hitting up motorists for some cash when they stopped at the light.

She tried to change, he said, but eventually must have given up.

But when exactly was it that the rest of us gave up on her?

It was probably before she came to Portland. Plenty of people here resent the homeless who drift into town, and taxpayers are not crazy about spending on programs that would get people off the streets.

Hanson was from Michigan, and that would be enough for those in Augusta who want to stop supporting antipoverty services in Portland and other big cities.

They claim that our benefits attract other state’s poor, and that programs that pay for safe housing actually hurt recipients by making them dependent.

We don’t know how much family or community support she got before she made the trip to Maine.

Maybe we gave up on her when she was in school. Maybe it was earlier than that. Maybe it was when she was born to an 18-year-old mother, who according to Toina’s obituary, died at the age of 35, when Toina was 17, estranged from her four children.

We do know that childhood abuse and neglect leave permanent scars. We know that early childhood brain development is influenced by trauma and a lack of stimulation and that children born in unstable homes to irresponsible parents often come to school unable to learn.

Poor neighborhoods in which kids from those backgrounds are concentrated, fill classrooms with children who can’t focus.

We know that most good jobs require a good education, but we are slow to expand and quick to cut the early childhood programs that would help poor children overcome their disorganized households.

Instead, we blame the adults who emerge from that chaos for their lack of initiative. We blame the schools for failing to teach. We blame the parents who failed their kids.

There will be a memorial service for Hanson on Friday at Preble Street, and the people who remember her and who cared about her will be there to share their stories about the woman they describe as frail and childlike and who couldn’t survive her life on the street.

Most of us won’t be there. We stopped caring a long time ago.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or

Federal grant targets homeless veterans in Cumberland County

PORTLAND — The Preble Street Resource Center is accustomed to helping the homeless navigate local and state bureaucracies to get the assistance they need.

Much of that help comes through either local general assistance programs, or through the state’s Department of Health and Human Services – systems the center knows well.

But there is a subgroup of the homeless, or nearly homeless, that is more difficult to reach. They’re proud, but scarred. They’re independent, but wounded. And they’re not used to asking for help. 

They are low-income and homeless veterans.

But it’s about to get easier to reach out and help those who served their country.

Preble Street was recently awarded a $750,000 federal grant through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families help to homeless veterans in Cumberland County.

Jon Bradley, associate director at Preble Street, said 60 percent of the state’s homeless veterans live in Cumberland County.

"Our goal is to cover all of Cumberland County," Bradley said. "(But) we know that most of those who we need the assistance will be in Portland."

In 2010, 347 veterans stayed in Cumberland County homeless shelters, according to Bradely. About 75 are considered chronically homeless, he said.

While many homeless vets share the same problems as other homeless people – mental health issues and substance abuse, Bradley said, they also struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

But veterans are eligible for a whole range of benefits from the VA.

"There’s a different bureaucracy with different entitlements" Bradley said. "There’s a whole system we’re going to be helping them navigate."

The new veteran’s program will be a collaboration between Preble Street Resource Center, the city of Portland and Pine Tree Legal, Bradley said.

The group’s grant was one of 85 awarded nationally through a competitive process that drew more than 400 applications.

The framework for the program will be an existing partnership between Preble Street and the city: the Housing Prevention and Rapid Response program, which is funded through stimulus money through December. 

That program seeks to help those on the verge of losing their housing as well as place the homeless in new housing. The city’s staff typically works with landlords, while Preble Street handles the case work.

Bob Duranleau, the administrator of the city’s Social Services division, said that program has placed 1,000 homeless people in housing.

"It’s worked really well," Duranleau said.

Bradley said Preble Street plans on hiring three additional case workers to focus on homeless veterans and two more staffers to focus on preventing homelessness.

Duranleau said the city expects to hire a staffer to focus on housing placement and another to coordinate financial assistance.

About 30 percent, or $200,000, of the grant will be used to provide direct financial assistance to veterans to help pay for security deposits, their first month’s rent, and utility connection fees – frequent obstacles to obtaining housing.

"This grant will help with those start-up costs people need to get into an apartment," Duranleau said. "That’s what’s exciting about this."

Bradley said many homeless veterans in shelters are from the Vietnam era, between the ages of 50 and 60. But he is concerned about influx of new veterans that may need help.

"We’re also seeing returning vets now, which is another whole group that needs special attention," Bradley said.

Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom are young with families, are returning to the U.S. at a time when job prospects are bleak, home foreclosures continue at a rapid rate, and the economy is teetering on the brink of a double-dip recession.

President Obama has made unemployed veterans a focus. In addition to the funding for homeless vets, Obama announced a "reverse boot camp" to reintegrate vets into society as well as more education funding.

Obama also challenged the private sector to hire 100,000 unemployed, post-9/11 veterans by 2013.

While the president’s programs are aimed at stemming the tide of homeless veterans, Preble Street must confront the hard truth that many of these veterans have already been passed by.

"We haven’t seen a lot of those (post-9/11 veterans)," Bradley said. "But that is a population of expected growth, especially a population that may be out there now really struggling that isn’t showing up at shelters, that isn’t looking for services, but really needs help."

Bradley said he expects program to be up and running by early fall. He said Preble Street will reach out to Cumberland County communities through their general assistance programs and through the state’s social service hot line, 211.

Unfortunately, Bradley said he doesn’t expect to look to far to find people to help.

"We’re going to have plenty of people to work with," he said. "We think we can make a really big impact," he said.

Rally cry: ‘We need housing’

PORTLAND – The city has lost more than 100 affordable rental units over the past five years and needs to clarify an ordinance meant to protect its housing stock, advocates for the homeless said at a rally today in Congress Square.

Crafted during a housing crunch nearly 10 years ago, Portland’s housing replacement ordinance requires developers to replace units they eliminate, or pay into a development fund. It has been criticized by real estate interests, which say it hurts economic development.

But advocates said the ordinance isn’t working as intended: They noted the loss of 60 homes for women when the YWCA was torn down, the elimination of seven apartments at 660 Congress Street and the pending conversion of 54 apartments at the Eastland Park Hotel.

"We say ‘enough,’ we need housing," Amy Regan, a community organizer for Homeless Voices for Justice, told the gathering.

Regan called on the Portland City Council to change the ordinance language to better define the original intent when it meets June 6 for a scheduled vote on an amendment.

The amendment reflects concerns following the recent sale of the Eastland Park Hotel, and plans by the new owners to convert apartments back to hotel rooms. The city decided the hotel was exempt from the ordinance, because the apartments didn’t exist when the historic building first opened.

The proposed amendment is intended to address the conversion or elimination of rental units in an existing building, according to Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman. It has the support of the city’s housing committee, she added.

Clegg also defended the city’s track record on affordable housing, noting it has funneled $6.7 million of government money over the past 10 years to help create 500 new units.

"We take the need for affordable housing very seriously," she said.

Clegg also noted three projects that are under way or planned — on High Street; at the former Adams School on Munjoy Hill; and a second phase of Pearl Place, in Bayside — that will add more than 100 new rental units.

But Clegg acknowledged that the city lacks data to know whether Portland has experienced a net loss of rental housing over the past decade, notably through the conversion of apartments to condominiums.

Either way, a lack of affordable housing in the city is evident at homeless shelters, advocates said. They displayed banners with statistics that included the estimate that 7,000 people were forced to stay in an emergency shelter at some point last year.

One of the biggest shortages, Regan said, is one-room efficiency apartments. Some of those are at the Eastland, and rent for roughly $500 a month.

"People paying $500 are going to have a hard time finding another apartment," Regan said.

Clegg said the new owners of the Eastland have said they will try to find alternative housing for the displaced residents.

The seven apartments at 660 Congress St. are in a now-vacant building owned by Roxanne Quimby, the conservationist who had previously planned to create artist studios there. The City Council granted Quimby an exemption to replacing the units, saving her $406,000 in fees.

Housing advocates hope the amendment will clarify the city’s rules for affordable housing, according to John Anton, a city councilor who also heads up a nonprofit, affordable housing investment fund.

Anton, who spoke at the rally, said he thinks the ordinance has conflicting language. The city has done a good job at creating new affordable housing, he said, but needs to do more to preserve what’s already available.

During the rally, Anton noted that the city has a strong historic-preservation ordinance. "It’s OK to preserve history, but not okay to preserve housing," he said. "I think we have it backwards."

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or


LePage visit clears up contested budget item

Worried that the proposed state budget would drastically limit access to General Assistance funds for some of Maine’s neediest residents, one state representative invited Gov. Lepage to Portland’s epicenter of social services and cleared up a major "drafting error."

Upon hearing that the governor’s budget proposal called for limiting General Assistance help to once per calendar, District 119 representative Ben Chipman invited LePage to meet with several of his constituents last Friday afternoon as the governor rolled through Portland as part of his "Capitol for a Day" tour.

"Since the governor released the budget, I’d been getting inquiries from constituents concerned about the provisions on General Assistance, so I invited him and he was willing to come by and meet with folks at Preble Street [Resource Center]," said Chipman.

General Assistance, one of the Maine’s major social services programs run by every town in Maine and partly funded by the state, is designed to help people who have fallen on hard times to meet necessary expenses like rent, food, non-food, medication, fuel, utilities, and other essential services.

"It’s basically for those scraping the bottom of the barrel who are on the edge of becoming homeless," said Chipman.

Chipman said there are already restrictions on who may quality for general assistance, and that Portland works hard to make sure the system is not abused.

But a budget proposal released by Lepage called for limiting general assistance help to once per calendar year, meaning that if an applicant received help to pay their monthly living expenses they would not be eligible to receive assistance again for the rest of the year.

"I was very concerned about the impact this would have had on the poorest of the poor," said Chipman. "General Assistance is a critical social safety net. If this budget had been passed as drafted there is no question that our homeless shelters would have quickly filled over capacity and people would have been sleeping on the streets.

Capitalizing on the Governor’s willingness to stop by Preble Street, Chipman lined up a group of about a half-dozen citizens who had used the general assistance program in the past, as well as social workers and city officials who help administer social services.

"These constituents each took turns telling their stories about how they had to use General Assistance in the past because they were in a tough spot," said Chipman, who urged Lepage to consider how many Mainers rely on the financial safety-net. "There was a serious concern about the impact it would have in Portland," Chipman said.

During the conversation at the Preble Street Resource Center, LePage said he never meant to limit the program for Maine residents. Monday, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office confirmed that the budget will be corrected.

"The language in the budget right now does not reflect the Governor’s intent – he does not want a once-a-year limit," said Dan Demeritt, spokesman for the Governor’s Office.

"Through our conversation, the Governor stated that he only intended to place this restriction on people who are from out of state, not those who are Maine residents. Right now the way it reads it doesn’t specify out-of-state vs in-state," said Chipman. "We asked him to clarify this and make a change in the budget proposal, and he agreed to provide some clarification."

Chipman said he appreciated the governor’s swift response in clearing up the drafting error, and taking the time to visit with some of Maine’s neediest residents.

"I’m glad the governor made time to meet with the folks at Preble Street and the pledge of support from his office to correct it," he said. .