The percentage of Maine’s homeless who were without shelter this year was the lowest of any state and the overall number of homeless residents was down 13 percent from 2014, compared with a 2 percent decrease nationally.

However, despite significant year-to-year fluctuation over the past six years, the overall number of homeless people in Maine was about the same this year as it was in 2010, while the number nationally has decreased 11.4 percent during that period.

Maine also has twice as many unsheltered homeless people, 40 percent more homeless veterans and roughly the same number of chronically homeless people now as it did six years ago, even though all three categories saw major decreases nationally during that time.

Those were among the findings of the 2015 annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The report relied on data gathered in each state during an annual “point in time” survey in which service providers and volunteers around the country attempt to count the number of homeless. The numbers are a snapshot of a single day in January, but the data is used by HUD to determine how to allocate federal funding to states.

In Maine, 2,372 homeless people were counted in 2015. All but 59, or 2.5 percent, were staying in a shelter at the time, by far the lowest percentage of any state.

By comparison, the highest rate of unsheltered homeless was in California, where 63.7 percent of the state’s more than 115,000 homeless people were unsheltered. According to HUD, that means those people are living outdoors, in their vehicle or in an abandoned building.

The disparity between California and Maine has much to do with the time of year in which the survey is conducted and the weather conditions. All the states with high rates of unsheltered homeless people are in warmer climates, while states with lower rates tended to be Northeast states.

Maine’s dangerously cold temperatures in January force many homeless people indoors who normally might not seek shelter. January this year was especially cold and snowy and in fact, the point-in-time survey had to be postponed in Maine until early February because of a major snowstorm.

“I’m sure if we did the survey in June, the rate of unsheltered would be much higher, but I think the overall homeless numbers would probably be the same,” said Angela Havlin, director of Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter.


The total rate of homelessness in the United States dropped by 2 percent from 2014 to 2015 and has decreased by 11.4 percent, or by more than 72,000 people, since 2010 – the year President Obama launched an initiative called Opening Doors, the first-ever federal strategic plan designed to tackle homelessness.

“The Obama Administration has made an historic commitment to effectively end homelessness in this nation. Together with our partners across the federal government and communities from coast to coast, we have made tremendous progress toward our ambitious goals. But our work is far from finished. We have to continue making smart investments in the strategies that work so that everyone has a place to call home,” HUD Secretary Julian Castro said in a statement.

The six-year trend also showed major decreases in key areas nationally:

The number of unsheltered homeless was down 26 percent – from 233,534 in 2010 to 173,268 this year.

The number of homeless veterans was down 36 percent, from 74,087 in 2010 to 47,725 in 2015.

Chronic homelessness decreased 22 percent over that time, from 106,062 to 83,170. According to HUD, chronic homelessness is defined as someone who has been continuously homeless for a year or more or someone who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness within the past three years.

The overall number of homeless in Maine showed a steep decrease – 2,726 to 2,372 – from 2014 to 2015, but the number has fluctuated widely over the past six years, and was only 0.3 percent fewer this year than it was in 2010. The number of chronically homeless in the state was just 4 percent fewer, 217 this year compared with 226 in 2010.

The number of homeless veterans has increased significantly, from 108 in 2010 to 151 this year, and while Maine’s percentage of homeless people without shelter was the lowest in the nation in 2015, the total number is more than double what it was in 2010, 59 this year compared with 28 then.

Havlin said she couldn’t draw conclusions from the trends in Maine from 2010 to 2015 but said, from what she has seen, things have improved tremendously in the past few years.

Just two years ago, homelessness in Maine increased from 2,393 people in 2012 to 3,016 in 2013, a spike of 26 percent – one of the largest increases in the country. The total then came back down to 2,726 last year, a decrease of nearly 10 percent, before dropping another 13 percent this year.

“I think organizations are doing a better job collaborating and prioritizing homeless services,” Havlin said. “We’ve made a push to target long-term stayers in our shelter. When we can find them housing, the impact is really big.”

Oxford Street has 150 beds at its shelter and can accommodate another 75 people in overflow space at the Preble Street Resource Center. Overall, Portland has about 400 beds to offer the homeless.

State Sen. Justin Alfond, a Portland Democrat, sponsored legislation this year to provide $3.5 million in additional funding to homeless shelters. The funding was reduced to $2 million before the legislation was voted out of committee but it never made it to a vote in the House or Senate.

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