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Law Aims To Relieve Pressure On Homeless Shelters By Expanding General Assistance Eligibility

Advocates are hoping that a newly signed law will help homeless residents find support in their own communities, instead of traveling to Bangor or Portland to get services.

The new policy signed last week by Gov. Janet Mills clarifies the definition of homelessness in state law and declares that those who are eligible can get emergency general assistance funds. Democratic state Sen. Ben Chipman of Portland says he hopes the law will prevent more people from being forced to go to a shelter in a larger city.

“That’s the worst thing for a homeless person. They show up in a community that they’re not from. They don’t know anybody there in most cases. They’re separated from all their support. And it just makes it that much longer before they’re going to get back on their feet,” he says.

However, the Portland Press Herald reports that the president of the Maine Welfare Directors Association believes the effect of the new policy may be limited in some cases, as many smaller communities don’t have housing or hotels to provide shelter.

Some social service and housing organizations support the policy and say it could help relieve pressure on shelters that have reached capacity.