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Homelessness on the rise in Maine, according to 2022 survey

A homeless person rests at the entrance of a downtown office building Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, in Portland, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP photo
A homeless person rests at the entrance of a downtown office building Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, in Portland, Maine.

An annual survey from MaineHousing shows homelessness in the state is on the rise, and community organizers fear that without more attention on Maine's housing crisis, the trend will continue.

There were 4,411 people experiencing homelessness in Maine on Jan. 25, a significant spike compared to previous years.

But for the first time that number includes 956 people in transitional housing and 2,476 others staying in hotels through emergency rental assistance and general assistance programs. All told, some 3,291 people were sheltered during the state's point-in-time count.

The real number is likely higher, said Cullen Ryan, executive director for Community Housing of Maine, since the point-in-time survey is meant to be a snapshot of homelessness in the state during one night in January.

The state has access to federal resources to temporarily shelter Mainers and asylum seekers that it has never had before, Ryan said, but Maine's unaffordable and tight rental and housing market is prolonging homelessness for some.

"They've been unable to find places for people to go," said Ryan, who also serves as the president of the Maine Continuum of Care Board of Directors. "People are getting stuck in homelessness for lengthy periods of time, not because of complex issues but because there is no housing to go to."

While Portland is the primary landing place for asylum seekers coming to Maine, Ryan said he hears about the lack of housing options across the entire state, from Bangor and Aroostook County to western and coastal Maine.

"The biggest worry that I have is that when you look at cities on the West Coast, there is an unprecedented and rapidly growing situation of people who are unsheltered entirely and are trying to make a go of it outside," he said. "We just can't have that happen in Maine because our weather just doesn't allow it. We really should be setting the bar higher to not allow people to be outside."

The MaineHousing survey also counted 164 unsheltered individuals this year, up from 141 back in 2020. There was no unsheltered count last year due to the pandemic, according to MaineHousing.

Nearly one-quarter of homeless individuals were under age 18, according to the survey. Almost half of households experiencing homelessness have at least one child.

Data also shows homeless individuals were more likely to be male and nonwhite compared to Maine's actual population, which is 91% white and 49% male, according to MaineHousing.