Topic: Staff Leadership

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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Positively Maine: Mark Swann

Tory Ryden created Positively Maine in response to the explosion of negative, troubling and worry-inducing news stories that infiltrate all air waves. The show is an hour-long and features no vitriolic arguments–rather, inspirational, informative stories that motivate and, the goal is, uplift. We feature individuals, groups and companies from every pocket of this great state that are making a difference.

Tory has been honored with the Edward R. Murrow, Columbia DuPont, Emmy, and Associated Press awards for her television reporting and anchoring in Boston, Florida and in Portland. A lover of nature, swimming, hiking, excellent wine and golden retrievers, Tory and her husband have a combined 7 children who are grown and creating great adventures around the globe.

Positively Maine with Tory Ryden–sponsored by Cellardoor Winery and the Employees of Village Candle, airing on WGAN AM 560 and FM 105.5, Sundays at 11am.

Invisible homelessness: Maine teens on the streets

(NEWS CENTER) — Maine is at the heart of a national study that many will find hard to believe.

More than 2,000 young people in Maine have no home and find themselves scrambling for shelter, food and respect.

Even during the harshest of Maine’s winter months, there are thousands who live outside—under bridges, in the woods, in storage units, in cars, couch surfing. Even harder to believe is the age: 10- to 24-year-olds.

“I was struggling my whole life so it’s normal for me to run into people or to know people who are in those situations. So, I don’t see it as, ‘oh, Maine, there are no issues like that here.’ There are a ton. There is a lot going on under the radar,” said Natachia, who is 20 and pregnant. “My family has had a lot of struggling in their life so I never came from people who either were rich or not struggling or good to go with everything,” she explained.

Natachia recently checked into Hospitality House in Rockland. The Knox County shelter is designed to help young families. At Hospitality, she is receiving services she and her soon to be born baby need: access to healthcare, transportation and the opportunity to speak with professionals.

“I’ve been homeless off and on since I was 16-years-old, but even before then I can never really recall a time in my life where I had a very stable living environment,” shared Zachariah, from his Rumford apartment.

He has moved more than he can count, most often staying with family or friends on the couch, also known as couch surfing. When that’s not available, some young people head outside: in the woods,under a bridge, in a car.

Karen, who has three young daughters, understands that situation.

“For probably seven years, I was bouncing between family and friends and car and what not,” Karen said.

She, Zachariah and Natachia are all part of a growing problem in Maine: youth homelessness.

“It is a huge problem. Much bigger than we knew,” explained Jon Bradley, associate director of Preble Street, which runs the Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter in Portland.

Bradley says desperation has pushed an alarming number of the young and homeless to make unsafe choices.

“The kids who are what we would call trafficking, in terms of sex trafficking, trading a bed, you know, for a place to stay for sex. And we’ve seen much more of that over the years than we used to,” Bradley shared.

In southern Maine last year, there were more than a hundred cases of sex trafficking. The youngest involved? Age 15. Nationally, a 10-year-old.

“They don’t see any hope, they don’t trust people to take care of them or to give them help,” said Bradley.

Determining who and where these young people are has prompted a national homeless teen count, and Maine figures prominently. The state of Maine is the first rural state to be examined. And so far, the numbers are telling a fairly grim story. Estimates of more than 2,000 youth—ages 12 to 24, who are homeless on any given night here in Maine. And, the number of youth at-risk for homelessness is even greater.

“We looked at both rural and urban communities across the state…we went by county, we did seven counties,” Bradley stated. “There were real differences between the kids we were seeing in our cities, where shelters are located and in the real rural areas where there are very few resources.”

In fact, the state of Maine has only three shelters dedicated to homeless youth in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor, which makes finding and helping homeless and runaway youth difficult.

“We do street outreach and engage kids. There are some 200 kids,some who we don’t see but we give them food support to, we have actually packs that include toiletries and other necessities for people on the street. That includes most of the youth, I think, in Portland.”

Bradley is working with non-profits in the seven counties, zeroing in on rural regions located several hours from youth shelters. Towns like Rumford, a struggling mill town community where jobs are scarce and resources to fund group homes, dwindling. And Rockland, dealing with a tremendous homeless issue, which belies its picturesque coastline.

“It’s a tragedy to think that in this beautiful part of our country and Maine that this is happening and it’s quite prevalent. It’s a humanitarian issue,” Stephanie Primm said.

Primm runs Hospitality House, the Knox County shelter for young families and adults. Open just over two years, the shelter has helped over 2,000 people.

“64 percent of our clients describe coming from a generational poverty scenario, so that’s often inclusive of a combination of abuse, low education or really no opportunity,” Primm continued. “They’re people who never really had a chance. It’s sad because there’s a lot of judgement of underprivileged people, of the poor. Some people use the word demonization,” she explained.

Primm and her three daughters wound up at Hospitality House after bouncing from friends’ couches to living out of a car. Now, she has an apartment and works at the shelter’s food pantry.

“It helped my confidence, it helped get paperwork and stuff done and everybody here is so nice,” Karen told us.

Many arrive at Hospitality under extreme stress—money problems, drugs and alcohol, mental illness, disease, death. They’ve been tested to the limit. Abbey and her young daughter arrived a week ago.

“I needed to be here, trying to find my own place, get everything situated on my own,” Abbey said.

There are pockets of Maine that simply have nothing in place to help the homeless, particularly the young and homeless. Still, those who do find help often face judgement and enormous hurdles.

“Without an address, you can’t get a library card, you can’t get an ID, you can’t go to the food bank and get meals, you can’t even put down an address on a job application because you don’t have an address. It’s almost as if you don’t exist,” Zachariah quietly shared.

“Our big challenge as workers and people in this field is to connect with them and build relationships and even the staff use themselves as mentors as adults that are different can be trusted, will accept behaviors, for us that’s the harm reduction piece,” Jon Bradley said.

Back in Rockland, Stephanie Primm gives us a view of the land she is hoping to cultivate as Hospitality House’s farm. Her dream is to grow produce for local restaurants in nearby Camden, Rockport and in Rockland. She’s also hoping to expand the shelter to make room for even more young families in need.

“We really need people to understand that this is real, this is very real and these are people who can succeed if they’re given a chance,and they’re given support.”

Earlier consolidation of health care services could indicate challenges of closing India Street clinic

Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street, a nonprofit that runs a soup kitchen and resource center, said a lack of services and limited hours at Portland Community Health are causing more people to go to local hospitals or the India Street clinic, or go untreated.

“There’s some really strong staff at PCHC we work with everyday, but they don’t have the capacity to support fully what the city offered before,” Swann said. “That’s not to say PCHC won’t get there, but at this point it’s a much lesser clinic than it was when the city ran it.”

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Concerns Growing Over India Street Clinic’s Possible Closure

Concerns over the possible closure of a Portland health clinic are intensifying.

A proposed city budget would close the India Street Public Health Center and transfer patients to the federally qualified Portland Community Health Center. City officials say the switch would be more cost-effective while still providing the same quality of care.

But some in the community worry that patients could get lost in the shuffle due to the loss of critical relationships and lack of capacity.

For awhile, Richard – who asked that his last name not be used – just couldn’t accept that he needed to go to a free health clinic. But he lost his insurance when the company he worked for closed, and last fall he developed a fever he just couldn’t kick.

“I was running a fever consistently over 103. I had lost 40 pounds, and I was sleeping sometimes 18 hours a day,” he says.

It got so bad that in January, Richard swallowed his pride and went to the India Street Public Health Center.

“I sort of expected the worst. And what I found was, it was the best medical experience of my life,” he says.

He says the staff treated him with kindness and respect as he got various blood work and testing. When the results came in he got devastating news. He tested positive for HIV.

“Everything ended for me in that moment. I thought, ‘My life is over. I’ve made some bad decisions along the way, and everything is done now,’” he says.

When India Street staff told Richard he needed to come in as soon as possible, he reminded them that he didn’t have health insurance. They told him that didn’t matter, that they would help him get better. And, he has.

“They do HIV, they do a needle exchange, they do mental health — all right there in the building, all of which is linked to this disease,” he says.

Now, three months later, Richard’s gained some weight back and his outlook is more optimistic. But he’s terrified at the prospect of the India Street Public Health Center closing and losing the provider he says saved his life.

A proposed city budget would transfer India Street’s services and patients to the Portland Community Health Center, which receives higher reimbursement rates as a federally qualified health center. Portland’s director of Health and Human Services Dawn Stiles says there are several reasons to make the switch.

“One of them is the fact that none of the Northeast cities are providing direct health care anymore. And when you look at the trends and what the real purpose of public health is, it’s really to do population health, policy and making sure emergency systems are in place rather than providing direct primary care services,” she says.

And the city has a nonprofit, federally qualified health center that’s well positioned to provide cost-effective, quality care, says Stiles. The Portland Community Health Center already took on the health care needs of the city’s homeless population when a city clinic closed a couple years ago.

But Mark Swann, the executive director of the Preble Street Resource Center, says it hasn’t been a seamless transition.

“They do a great job with their homeless health clinic, but the fact is, it’s significantly reduced services than when the city ran the program,” he says.

Swann says the Portland Community Health Center just doesn’t have the clinical bodies to keep up with the demand for dental care, mental health and substance abuse treatment.

But Community Health Center CEO Leslie Clark says all of their services are team-based and include a social worker. She says they’ve grown their homeless health clinic despite cuts to MaineCare, and they’re prepared to take on more patients.

“The goal is to makes sure every single patient has a plan and a place to receive their care,” she says.

If India Street closes, Clark says she’ll work with their staff to better know and understand their patients. She also hopes to hire some of the India Street staff.

But that’s all a big “if” right now, she says. She doesn’t have a position on whether or not it should close.

“We were asked by the city if we’d be able to step up and help if this were to happen, and we admire very much the work they do there, and we’d be honored to making sure it continues,” Clark says.

A public hearing on the possible closing of the India Street Public Health Center is scheduled for 7 p.m. next Thursday.

Maine Foodie Tours announces 12 months of giving campaign

PORTLAND – Maine Foodie Tours, the company that has brought culinary walking tours to Portland, Kennebunkport, Bar Harbor and Rockland, has announced its new “12 Months of Giving” campaign. Each month, a portion of ticket sales purchased for Maine Foodie Tours will be donated to a different Maine charity or organization.

“We want to take advantage of our position as a popular tour provider to elevate awareness of charities and organizations in Maine among our tour guests,” said Pamela Laskey, owner of Maine Foodie Tours. “Our company mission is to showcase the Maine entrepreneurial spirit, hard working habits and culinary talent in Maine, and with this new campaign, guests will learn how Mainers also help one another working with some amazing organizations and charities.”

The charities and organizations that Maine Foodie Tours has chosen to support in 2016 are statewide or located within the four communities in which they currently operate. Charities and organizations included in the 12 Months of Giving are: Gulf of Maine Research Institute; Preble Street; Cultivating Community – South, “Let’s Go” Nutrition Program – Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital; Making Communities Happen (Meals on Wheels); American Lung Association – Maine Chapter; Good Shepherd Food Bank; Share our Strength – No Kid Hungry – Maine Chapter; Hardy Girls, Healthy Women; Maine Lobstermen’s Association; American Diabetes Association – Maine Chapter; Friends of Acadia.

Additionally, the Animal Welfare Society of West Kennebunk is the recipient of all profits from the “Doggie and Me” six-legged tours offered each season in Kennebunkport, offering eats for the owners and treats for the furry friends.

“It’s no surprise that Maine is home to so many world class restaurants. Some of the best and most nutritious food is grown, raised, or fished here. What is surprising and distressing, though, is the fact that, despite this bounty, our state has the third highest rate of hunger in the nation,” said Mark R. Swann, executive director for Preble Street. “We depend on donations from businesses, like Maine Foodie Tours, whose generosity enables us to serve more than 1,200 meals each day to hungry people at three soup kitchens and a weekly food pantry, and work to improve food access across the state through the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative.”

For additional information about the 12 Months of Giving, or to schedule an interview with Pamela Laskey, please contact Kate McCann at 412-952-0633 or

Annual survey shows Portland’s problem of homelessness by the numbers

… William Burney, director of the HUD field office in Maine, and Jon Bradley, associate director of Preble Street, an agency that serves homeless people, participated in Wednesday night’s survey.

Despite an overall decline in homelessness, Portland officials have noted an increase in homeless people sleeping outside, even as encampments and overgrown areas around the city have been cleared.

“You won’t see as many now because of the weather and because a concerted effort is being made to get people indoors,” Bradley said …

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Concern for Homeless Population as Temperatures Drop

As the temperature falls, the concern is growing for the homeless population in Portland, Maine.

Mark Swann, Director of the Preble Street shelter, worries the number of people sleeping outside in the cold is growing. In October, Preble Street staff counted 88 people sleeping in camps or on the streets in Portland. Swann said that number is double what they counted last year.

“That’s more people sleeping outside than we’ve ever seen, in many, many, many years,” said Swann.

It’s difficult to get an accurate count, but Swann worries many of them will stay outside in the cold winter months. He said some people refuse, or are reluctant to come to the shelter due to mental health issues, drug addiction, or even pride.

“There can be paranoia about coming in and putting your name down on a sheet of paper,” said Swann. “It’s complicated stuff.”

But he wants to encourage everyone to come out from the cold, even if the shelters are full. He said they will work to find everyone a place to stay who needs it.

“The kind of weather we are experiencing right now – people can die,” said Swann. “We are redoubling our efforts in terms of street outreach.”

Roger Goodoak sees the problem firsthand. He is the founder of the Maine Homeless Veterans Alliance, a nonprofit that collects donated items and delivers them to the homeless wherever they are.

“You’ve got to walk a quarter of a mile into the woods to sometimes to find these people,” said Goodoak.

As a veteran who was once homeless himself, Goodoak said he always encourages the homeless to stay at the shelter – but he said sometimes they refuse.
“I cry,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do.”

Swann said the trend is troubling, but he hopes it will call attention to the need to address homelessness at the local, state, and federal level.

“It’s not okay to have a city the size of Portland, Maine that has between four and five hundred people every single night sleeping on the floors of these crowded shelters, or sleeping outside,” he said.

Both Preble Street and the Maine Homeless Veterans Alliance accept donated goods, such as gloves, hats, coats, socks, and toiletries.

TideSmart Talk #154: Mark Swann and Dana Totman

This week on TideSmart Talk, we focused on housing and homelessness in Maine. In this two-part show, Mark Swann from Preble Street joined us to describe what he, the staff, and over 6,000 volunteers do to help serve 600,000 meals annually and to people and to combat homelessness and poverty. Dana Totman of Avesta Housing described how over 3,000 seniors in Maine are seeking affordable housing, but Avesta is only able to help ~300.

Preble Street‘s Executive Director is no stranger to TideSmart Talk, but he joined us recently to discuss the state of their programs in 2015. This is Preble Street’s 40th anniversary and it has been 10 years since they opened Logan Place and started practicing a “housing first” method of getting folks back on their feet.

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Mark Swann Remembers Leon Gorman

… Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street, said Gorman volunteered at the agency’s Portland soup kitchen every Wednesday morning for 12 years. Swann announced that the agency’s volunteer of the year award will be named the Leon Gorman Volunteer Service Award.

Swann remembered getting a call last winter from Gorman while Gorman was sitting in a plane idling on the tarmac at Boston’s Logan International Airport during a storm. Gorman wanted to know how Portland’s homeless were coping with the unusually cold and stormy winter. Swann reported that they lacked warm clothes, and Gorman immediately called the company’s warehouse and dispatched a truck filled with winter jackets, scarves, hats and toe-warmers to distribute to the homeless …

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