I am an avid reader and fan of the Portland Press Herald but have been disappointed in the headlines related to coverage of the shelters in Portland.

On Wednesday, the front-page headline “City knew of shelter users’ big bank accounts” did not reflect the data presented in the article from experts on the ground both in Portland and Bangor that showed mental illness – and state cuts for mental health programs – as the root of the problem. A better headline would have been “State mental health cuts at root of shelter problems.”

Tuesday’s Page 1 headline “Audit: Some in shelters have $20,000 in bank” was more accurate but implied that a huge percentage (over one-third of the 30 who stayed the longest) had substantial savings.

In fact, this is just 13 out of hundreds who use the shelter every night – 13 clients whose stories are known to the social service providers in town, who could have provided explanations to counter the presupposition of abuse.

The reporter missed that the story of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a broad collaboration of city, business, religious and social service leaders that significantly reduced the number of “long-term stayers,” almost ending chronic homelessness in Portland, saving thousands of dollars and making Portland a national model for handling homelessness using the “Housing First” model.

The people I see coming for help can be divided between poor Mainers, who are often struggling with mental health or addiction issues and are unable to work, and asylum-seekers and refugees, who would gladly work if they had the opportunity. These folks don’t want to be in the shelter or on General Assistance.

Beyond fixing our mental health services and expanding health insurance, the other way to solve the current crisis would be to give refugees and asylum-seekers temporary work permits as soon as they arrive.

Benjamin Shambaugh

Portland