Topic: Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter

Young and on their own in Maine

“Most youth who are accessing our services have fled their home because it felt unsafe in some way. That may have been extreme substance abuse in the home, it may have been some sort of physical, emotional or sexual violence,” said Leah McDonald, the Preble Street Teen Services Program Director. “They’ve gotten to a place in their life where they don’t want to be part of that anymore. These youth exhibit incredible resilience in extricating themselves from those situations.”

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Portland homeless shelters reach capacity because of bitter weather

… Donna Yellen, chief program officer for Preble Street, said the agency’s Joe Kreisler Teen Center reached capacity Wednesday night. The center has 24 beds. Yellen said the staff brought in cots to accommodate the overflow.

Florence House on Valley Street is a 40-bed shelter for women. When it reaches capacity, women are sent to the Oxford Street Shelter. Florence House exceeded its capacity Wednesday night, according to Yellen.

Yellen said the overflow area at Preble Street would be full Thursday night. During the day, Preble Street “was packed, the need is so great.” Preble Street serves three meals a day to the city’s homeless population.

“Homelessness, especially in these weather conditions, is life-threatening,” Yellen said …

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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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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.”

The City Council reallocates $40,000 of the federal funds for programs that serve the homeless.

The Portland City Council voted 6-2 Monday not to set aside $90,000 in federal grant money to help low-income families get child care so parents can find work or access counseling to become self-sufficient … Ultimately, the council voted to reallocate $40,000 of the funding to Milestone’s Home Outreach Mobile Engagement team and Preble Street’s Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter …

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Portland City Council approves block grant spending


PORTLAND — City councilors settled one budget question Monday, then got a glimpse into the future of city spending and operations.

By a unanimous vote, the council approved the fiscal year 2017 block grant spending plan proposed by City Manager Jon Jennings earlier this month. The nearly $4 million in spending is far outstripped by the demand, Jennings said.

“This is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in this position,” Jennings said of allocating $1.8 million in Community Development Block Grants, $989,000 in other funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as some accrued city money.

Councilors also eliminated an automatic $90,000 set aside in CDBG funds for the Catherine Morrill Day Nursery. The dedicated fund was created last year after councilors eliminated bonus points for child-care grant applications.

The nursery will receive $50,000 in a block grant next year, although Jennings hinted additional funding could come when the council votes May 16 on the municipal budget he will introduce Monday, April 4.

As occurred in the March 14 CDBG hearing, child-care advocates requested that the funds continue to be set aside, although the elimination allowed Jennings to shift funding to the Homeless Outreach & Mobile Engagement, or HOME Team, operated by the Milestone Foundation.

The Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter operated by Preble Street will also receive $15,000 in diverted funding.

“If I have to choose between a subsidy for child care or helping a homeless teen out of harm’s way, I am going to make the decision to help a teen out of harm’s way,” Councilor Jill Duson said before voting to eliminate the set-aside funding. Councilors Nick Mavodones Jr. and David Brenerman opposed ending the set-aside.

In a 60-minute workshop following the 75-minute meeting, Fire Chief David Jackson outlined steps his department has taken to become more efficient, and said he and Jennings are now studying how the department may consolidate in the future.

The municipal operations budget Jennings will introduce will have money “to really look at where we place fire stations,” Jackson said.

“Ocean Avenue and Stevens Avenue are the stations that need to be replaced,” he added about aging off-peninsula stations that may not adequately serve how neighborhoods have grown.

Jackson also took issue with the 2013 audit by Maryland-based consulting firm Public Safety Solutions that suggests the department may be overstaffed, but added protocol changes instituted in 2014 have reduced the number of units that respond to some calls.

There are, on average, 53 firefighters and officers on duty each day, and staffing has been reduced by about 75 from a high of 300, Jackson said. He said comparisons used in the audit to 10 other New England cities were not fully valid because some of those cities lacked waterfronts, airports or did not operate their own rescue units.

Jackson said the department is also preparing to renew its inspection program in conjunction with the new city Housing Safety officer. The 11 city fire companies will be expected to perform48 inspections per shift per company, or more than 2,100 annually.

Commercial “Tier II” inspections for proper procedures on hazardous materials will also be renewed, Jackson said.

In his presentation, Jackson also noted the city boom in housing construction will also place more demands on the department.

Councilor Ed Suslovic, who has questioned how the department is staffed and deployed, praised Jackson for the presentation, but said he would like to hear more about how the rescue unit operations could be consolidated during off-peak hours and how downsizing in other departments has affected overall fire safety ratings assessed by the insurance industry.

Portland’s community development grants reduced, demand remains high

PORTLAND – A plan to help people left most vulnerable by expected changes to city general assistance, homeless and public health programs will rely largely on $4.28 million in city funds and federal Community Development Block Grants.

Funding from the Consolidated Housing and Community Development Annual Action Plan will be the subject of an April 22 public hearing by the City Council Housing and Community Development Committee.

"My (CDBG) recommendations focused on mental health services, child-care services, food assistance, and emergency housing," acting City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian said in her April 6 budget letter.

The funds comprising the action plan include a federal CDBG grant of $1.8 million (with $400,00 for job training services), $265,000 in CDBG Housing funds, $820,000 from the federal Home Investments Partnerships Program, an Emergency Solutions Grant of $162,000, use of $643,000 from the city Housing Trust Fund, and income from other existing programs of $605,000.

Toho Soma, the city’s acting public health director, said in an April 9 email the effects could be widespread from aid reductions in several areas of the state biennial budget presented by Gov. Paul LePage.

"The public health cuts would result in severe reductions to the Children’s Oral Health Program, which provides restorative and preventive dental care, and oral health education, to any Portland Public School student in need. Other reductions affect the capacity of the India Street Clinic, the Chronic Disease Prevention Program, the Health Equity and Research Program, and general operations," he said.

Grant funding amounting to $525,000 will be spread through food programs at Preble Street and Wayside, for mental health and substance abuse peer support and counseling at Amistad, and to fund the Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement, or HOME team providing assistance and referrals for the city’s homeless.

HOME team support had been shifted from the grant program last year, but was supported in the municipal budget. Grants will also be made to the Joe Kreisler Teen Center and Florence House Women’s Shelter, with $150,000 also going to community policing programs.

To help provide permanent homes for chronically homeless people, Community Housing of Maine will receive at $250,000 grant. City Finance Director Brendan O’Connell estimated April 9 the change in state reimbursements for Oxford Street Shelter from operations costs to a per-client fee could result in the loss of $820,000.

Efforts to shift clients to permanent housing are also a focal point of the Emergency Solutions Grant of $162,000, with homeless prevention staffing funding at the city’s shelter for families almost double to $52,000 and rapid rehousing programs at Oxford Street increased to $55,000 from $43,000.

The Portland Jobs Alliance will receive $340,000 of the funding for job training programs, with the remainder going to the Portland Microenterprise Assistance Program.

Available grant funding was not only reduced from last year, but requests continue to outpace available dollars, with a gap of about $1.6 million for the most basic CDBG grant, Hill Christian said.

Protecting our youth, ending human trafficking

This past New Year’s Eve, a man and woman were arrested in Bangor for allegedly forcing a 13-year-old Maine girl into prostitution. This child, who was listed as a missing person, was being sold for sex through ads on the Internet. A Bangor police officer, posing as a John, arranged online to meet the girl at a motel, where she was freed from a life of slavery and returned to her home.

This horrifying story is but the tip of an iceberg. These human traffickers prey upon the most vulnerable, often homeless runaways. They lure their victims into lives of commercial sex with promises of money and sometimes drugs, and keep them captive with lies, threats and violence. Many criminals who once dealt drugs now participate in sex trafficking because it is more profitable and less risky.

Every year, tens of thousands of American children and teenagers fall victim to sex traffickers, in addition to the countless other young people smuggled into our country from overseas for this despicable purpose.

Congress must do more to provide law enforcement with the tools it needs to pursue sex trafficking and to support preventive programs that help vulnerable young people who fall victim to trafficking. I recently had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of legislation that advances those goals.

In January, I joined Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, in authoring bipartisan legislation, now pending in the Senate, for a preventive measure that would strengthen housing programs and services for homeless juveniles, who often fall prey to traffickers. No young person should have to choose between selling their bodies and a safe place to sleep.

The Judiciary Committee already has passed two anti-trafficking bills that will be up for full Senate consideration. One would create a new source of financing for victim services and law enforcement with enhanced fines on criminals convicted of human trafficking and child pornography. The other would encourage states to treat those who are preyed upon by sex traffickers as victims instead of prosecuting them as criminals. The House has approved similar bills.

Another story from Maine helps illustrate both the harrowing experiences faced by young sex trafficking victims and also the importance of service providers in changing the course of the survivor’s life. In 2013, Preble Street, an organization that operates a homeless shelter and teen center in Portland, formed the Preble Street Anti-Trafficking Coalition – a group of outreach, health, case management, and legal service providers. With the support of a Department of Justice grant, this Coalition has brought together organizations such as Catholic Charities of Maine, the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, and the U.S. Attorney’s office. It is currently working with approximately 50 trafficking victims, whose ages range from 15 to 42.

One young woman, now 20-years-old, had been a familiar face around the Preble Street Teen Center. She was in and out of the foster care system, and met other girls who introduced her to “survival sex,” a way to trade sex for a place to sleep and other basic necessities. At age 16, she traded sex for a ride to Boston. Once in Boston, she met a man who prostituted her to other men, in Boston and back in Maine. She was sold to other pimps and endured physical abuse and violence for many years. When she eventually escaped and her traffickers were charged by police, she had nowhere to go but the local homeless shelter.

In fact, police chiefs, prosecutors, and service providers in Maine tell me that the lack of aftercare services, including a safe place to sleep, is among the greatest challenges that victims face. Today, the Preble Street Anti-Trafficking Coalition is helping this young woman and others like her start a new life. She is doing well and was able to testify against her trafficker in court – a very brave and traumatic ordeal for a victim.

It is not surprising that Portland’s homeless shelter is a critical partner in the fight to end human trafficking. Approximately one in four homeless youth are victims of sex trafficking or engage in survival sex, and 48 percent of homeless youth have done so because they did not have a safe place to stay.

The bill Sen. Leahy and I authored, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Trafficking Prevention Act, reauthorizes critical preventive and treatment services that help homeless youth around the country. Despite the recent decline we have seen in chronic homelessness, there are still more than 1.6 million homeless teens in the United States. As Chairman of the Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, one of my goals is to make sure our nation’s homeless youth have the same opportunity to succeed as other youth.

Our healthcare workers in Maine are also tremendous partners in helping to address these crimes. St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, Maine, has focused its efforts on educating and training clinicians and emergency medical providers to recognize the signs of human trafficking among their patients. With the proper tools and training, these clinicians can intervene in human trafficking cases and help these atrocities from continuing.

Maine is doing its part to end this scourge, where the “Not Here” Justice in Action Network brings together law enforcement and service providers to raise awareness about trafficking. Maine’s Sex Trafficking Action Response Team and the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Workgroup also provide statewide platforms for sharing resources. Those efforts, along with the work underway in Congress, are shining a bright light on some of the darkest stories imaginable.

Portland’s fight with state over shelter costs puts focus on ‘broken system’ statewide

Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street in Portland, said that on any given night the state’s 42 shelters are housing roughly 1,000 Mainers.

"We desperately need your help," Swann told lawmakers Monday. "We’re turning people away each night. Shelter directors, I can tell you, we all hold our breath knowing how dangerously understaffed we are at times. The fragility of our shelter system cannot be overstated …" 

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Homeless Advocates Seek Additional Funding for Maine Shelters

AUGUSTA, Maine – Homeless advocates from across the state lined up to support legislation that would provide an additional $3.5 million a year for homeless shelters.

Advocates say they’re not sure that additional funding is enough to handle the demands facing 42 shelters across the state that have about 1,000 people a night seeking a bed.

The state currently appropriates just $380,000 from the state’s General Fund to the shelters; most of their funding comes from the Maine State Housing Authority, which allocates $2.4 million from its Housing Opportunities for Maine Fund, supplied by part of the real estate transfer tax. Democratic state Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland says that is woefully inadequate to meet current needs, and that three-quarters of shelters’ budgets are relying on on contributions and bake sales to provide a fundamental service to local cities and towns.

That leaves “local communities in a constant state of instability and worrying about how they will provide safe shelter for those whose lives have unraveled,” he says.

Advocates from across the state made their case to lawmakers that serve on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. Shawn Yardley from the Region Three Homeless Council in Bangor says the reasons for homelessness are as varied as Mainers themselves.

“The major factors are economy, lack of affordable housing, untreated mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence,” he says. “The allocation of resources to respond to these factors will directly impact the need for shelters and the resulting cost.”

Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street in Portland, says that on any a given night in Maine, there are 1,000 Mainers sleeping in one of 42 shelters. He says they don’t want to be there, but they want to survive and many have a mental health diagnosis.

Dr. Trip Gardner from Penobscot Community Health Care, which runs the Hope House in Bangor, says roughly four out of five served last year at that facility had such a diagnosis. And the needs are not just in the cities. Francine Garland-Stark of the Hope and Justice Project in Aroostook County says the organization had three shelters at one time, but had to close one for lack of funds.

“When people call a domestic violence hotline and need shelter, we know it is not a choice they are making because they want to be there,” she says. “It is a choice of last resort to seek safety and to survive.”

John Richardson of Bread of Life Ministries in Augusta says not all of those people seeking shelter fit the stereotype of an older unkempt man. He says some of those who seek help from the state’s only veteran-specific shelter are in their 20s and are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“They came home to a group of folks around them and their families or their friends that didn’t understand what it was like to be over there,” he says. “And you will say, ‘But John, not everybody is in combat.’ True. But there are people riding on transports wondering if any minute an explosive device is going to go off. When you come home and people don’t get that, you have to do something about it.”

No one opposed the measure at the public hearing, but the bill’s fate is far from certain. Like other proposals with a price tag, it will wait until the end of the session after the state budget is passed and will have to compete with dozens of other spending requests.