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New Report Calls For Restructuring Maine's Homeless Services System, Providing More Affordable Housing

Homeless Encampment Maine
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
Tents crowd the plaza in front of City Hall, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Portland, Maine. City officials are trying to devise a strategy on how to handle the encampment of protesters demanding better services for the homeless.

A new report recommends that Maine move towards regional approach to homelessness, with more investment in programs to divert people away from shelters and provide more affordable, supportive housing.

State agencies contracted with the nonprofit Corporation for Supportive Housing to produce the report over the past year, which is intended to assess the state's current homeless services system and offer future recommendations.

At a meeting of Maine's Statewide Homeless Council on Tuesday, many officials and service providers largely supported the concept of moving towards the new, regional approach, which would bring organizations together into nine local "service hubs", with a goal of providing services closer to residents' homes.

The report also calls for substantially more affordable housing development across the state, with particular investment in supportive housing programs that would provide tenants with onsite services such as job training and case management. It recommends significantly more investment in rapid rehousing and diversion services, which the report's authors say could prevent people from entering a shelter in the first place.

At Tuesday's meeting, several advocates pushed back against any potential elimination of shelter beds. Preble Street Deputy Director Donna Yellen says the pandemic has shown the critical need that shelters play for people facing economic hardship.

"That they are the front door to getting people housed and we are an important, integral part of the public health system. We’ve learned how critical shelters are," Yellen says.

Statewide Homeless Council Chair Stephanie Primm estimates that implementing many of the report's recommendations could take up to a decade or more, and will require a substantial amount of investment. She says diversion programs can't work if affordable housing isn't available.

"So if I had to pick the most important piece for our state, or one of the top three, it'd be significantly committing to fast-forwarding the development of affordable and supportive housing, so this can all work," Primm says. "Because if you have nowhere to put people, you can't do the work."

MaineHousing Spokesperson Cara Courchesne says the report may be used as potential guidelines for the state as it reimagines its homeless services system.

"We're not really sure what that looks like yet, but we are really invested in making sure we do this, and we do this well," Courchesne says.

Courchesne says the agency is looking at several funding sources to help implement pieces of the plan, including foundation funds and parts of the American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year.

The state's homeless council is scheduled to look at any potential next steps around the report at its next meeting in September.