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At 'sit-out' in Portland, advocates mark longest day of the year for Maine's unhoused

Virus Outbreak Maine Daily Life
Robert F. Bukaty
Brian F., an unhoused man, wears a mask while asking for help during the coronavirus pandemic Friday, May 15, 2020, in Portland, Maine. State officials reported another 38 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus on Friday.

With a shortage of affordable housing in Maine, the risk of being unsheltered is higher than ever. MaineHousing's Point in Time Survey for 2022 reported a nearly 100% increase in the number of unhoused people in Maine since last year, though this year's number also accounts for those in transitional housing and recipients of federal pandemic rent relief.

To bring attention to the vulnerability of Mainers experiencing homelessness, especially during the hot summer months, the organization Homeless Voices for Justice hosted its 15th annual Longest Day of Homelessness Sit-out in Portland on Friday.

Advocates from the Mane Homeless Legal Project, Preble Street and the Maine Green Party joined city council members and others who have been homeless in asking for help from state and local government.

Homeless Voices for Justice, along with representatives from the Portland City Council and other Maine advocacy groups at the event, say that Maine lawmakers must do more to support unhoused people and include them in the conversation.

Advocate and formerly unhoused Portland resident Carolyn Silvius spoke to the crowd about the loss of dignity and control that homeless individuals experience, especially as the demand for shelters and soup kitchens increases. She said Portland’s support for unhoused people is not getting better.

"I haven't seen any improvement, it seems like things are getting worse. When I was in a shelter, I thought that the care was absolutely magnificent, and what I'm hearing is it's not anymore," Silvius said.

Silvius said that shelters are struggling to accommodate all the people that require their services, and adds that many homeless individuals feel unable to advocate for themselves and their housing situations.

Another focus is the Dignity Pilot Act, a project that allows unhoused people who have faced discrimination to file complaints with the Maine Human Rights Commission. HVJ advocate Jim Divine said he's hoping the pilot project can be expanded to include other caseworkers.

"We think that strategically, it'd be more efficient and effective to have case workers that work on a day-to-day basis with homeless people to file claims of harassment. What we need is to get as many claims as possible, so that the legislature will take this issue seriously," Divine said.

More information about the event and the Homeless Voices for Justice can be found on their website.