Nick Nicholson with Homeless Voices for Justice stands near mats used by homeless people to sleep on at shelters during a November vigil outside Portland City Hall.
In the back of my mind, I have long been aware that poverty and homelessness exist in Maine, but until recently, I did not have a solid understanding of these problems.
In spite of having lived in the Portland area for my entire life, I have had little contact with the poor and homeless living in and around the city, and consequently, the issue stayed firmly in the back of my mind.
Like many people, I was content with believing that the homeless population in Portland consisted primarily of drug addicts and the severely mentally ill, and that all that charitable organizations could do was provide the bare essentials to keep these people alive.
However, my beliefs were changed when I volunteered at the Preble Street Resource Center. I found that Preble Street offers more than just the essentials.
One standout feature of the organization is an incredibly hardworking group of caseworkers that helps clients find services to manage addiction and mental problems, leads them through the process of finding employment and affordable housing, and perhaps most importantly, provides the emotional support needed to endure their hardships.
Additionally, while some clients do suffer from chronic homelessness due to addiction or mental illness, there are a substantial number of clients who once had jobs and homes, but with the recent economic crisis have found themselves on the streets.
Even some people who do have steady employment and a home visit Preble Street on occasion because they don't have quite enough money to afford every meal out of pocket.
In short, poverty and homelessness affect a diverse group of people, and organizations like Preble Street do more than just help people survive. With continued financial and volunteer support, it is possible to make meaningful changes in the lives of the less fortunate.
Agamenticus clear-cut despoils beautiful setting
There once was a place of natural beauty, a fragile ecosystem where vegetation and wildlife lived in an intricate balance, offering visitors much to witness.
Towering hemlocks and pines, 130 years old, and stoic oak trees were home to flying squirrels, an albino porcupine and a rarely seen great gray owl. Moss-fringed granite ledges, bordered by the low growth of robust Scottish pines, gnarly oaks and white birch, invited families to picnic while enjoying marvelous views.
Upon this hill were intimate places that sheltered cottontails and warblers, and where one could find peace beneath snow-laden boughs and gaze at round northern peaks.
And then, it was gone -- butchered to stumps. Nearly 16 acres (I measured) of unique forest were hacked down on the summit of Mount Agamenticus in York, to create a better view. Gone is the intimacy, and gone is the sacred balance. Muddy ruts, scraped granite and barrenness are all that remain.
When I worked for the White Mountain National Forest Service, our "scenic vista" policy involved the selective cutting of trees, which provided views without disturbing existing wildlife habitats.
However, those in charge at Mount Agamenticus, York's parks and recreation director and a steering committee, insisted on a complete clear-cut for a 360-degree view. This decision was never presented to the actual landowners, York's residents, for a public hearing. No vote was ever taken by their representatives, the York Board of Selectmen.
For years, those in charge have preached conservation and preservation. Then, in a display of hypocrisy, they mutilated a wondrous natural environment for a selfish, human desire.
Board's vote to ban BPA recognizes danger to kids
I applaud the action taken by the Maine Board of Environmental Protection on Jan. 17, standing up to Gov. LePage and voting to ban BPA plastics from infant and baby food containers.
As a father, I should have a right to peace of mind regarding my children's health and safety. No parent should ever have to worry that they're poisoning their children.
Too often, our legislative bodies support the efforts of big business to deny the facts of science and health in favor of big money. The evidence for action on BPA was always crystal clear -- BPA harms children; food is a major source of exposure to BPA; and safer alternatives are available and affordable.
No more excuses. It's time our elected officials listen to science and work toward improved health in all aspects of our life.
Prevalence of guns, number of gun deaths directly linked
What were the Founding Fathers thinking when they wrote the Second Amendment? So Americans could defend themselves. And hunting? Yes. Hunting down schoolchildren and movie-goers and mall shoppers? No.
Let's be clear. When 30,000 Americans die from guns every year, it's not because our mentally ill are running amok with AK-47s. If that were true, we would have 30 times as many mentally ill as Britain, France or Australia, because our gun homicide rate is 30 times that of those countries.
And if the key cause were overexposure to violent video games and movies, then Japan would be way ahead of us in gun deaths, as they have the most graphically violent video games. But their gun homicide rate is close to zero.
Of course we need to do much more to identify and help people with mental illness. Of course we need to find better ways to capture young people's imaginations than through visions of violence and destruction.
But the reason we have so many gun deaths is that we have too many guns. We are 5 percent of the world's population; we have 50 percent of the world's guns. There are more than 88 guns per 100 people in the U.S.; "second place" goes to Yemen, with 45 guns per 100 people. Talk about a dubious distinction.
This is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. Keep guns for self-defense and hunting if you choose. But acknowledge that our country is awash in too many, too powerful guns that threaten us all.
We must find a balance between Second Amendment rights and the right of all of us to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- without fear of becoming the next gun homicide.