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State will use emergency funds to help expand and create new shelters this winter

A homeless man sitting outside a coffee shop accepts cash from a customer on a bitter cold morning, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Portland, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
A homeless man sitting outside a coffee shop accepts cash from a customer on a bitter cold morning, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Portland, Maine.

MaineHousing says it will spend new energy relief funds to help community organizations around the state expand existing overnight shelters and warming centers or open new ones this winter.

The agency is also looking for ideas from municipalities, non-profits and religious organizations to provide longer-term solutions for the unhoused population next winter and beyond.

The funds will come from the emergency housing fund, which received a $21 million infusion through the state's winter energy relief plan. Gov. Janet Mills signed it into law earlier this month.

MaineHousing issued two requests for proposal last week, detailing how communities can potentially access these funds this winter and in future years.

Dan Brennan, the agency's executive director, said the idea is to help communities create or expand existing shelters that could be ready to open as soon as possible.

"Secondly if a community wants to start thinking about what they might be able to do on a bit more long-term [basis] to help people experiencing homelessness through our winter months, is there a better way we can go about that?" he said.

Those long-term solutions could come in the form of permanent supportive housing or additional shelters ready to open next winter and beyond.

The emergency funds will also help unhoused individuals who have been staying in hotels, though Brennan said that will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

"This is not a hotel program," he said. "We're not looking to start funding hotels. But we know that there are some cases where people have been in them already, and they just have not any solution right now. So we want to keep them safe as well through this winter, through, say, the end of April."

According to the MaineHousing requests, new warming centers and shelters should stay open through at least the end of April. Longer-term community shelters should be ready to serve guests by next winter.

Brennan said the $21 million in new emergency funds could be using for other housing initiatives as well. The details will all depend on the proposals state officials receive in the coming weeks, he added.

Proposals for new shelter spaces for this winter are due Feb. 3. MaineHousing will take proposals for longer-term solutions through Feb. 24.