At a recent town council meeting in Brunswick, Tedford Housing’s director of operations, Giff Jamison, was compelled to speak at the podium during the public comment time related to the council’s vote on extending the current moratorium ordinance on the location of shelters. He was among several other community members who used the time to speak their mind on the moratorium and shelters in our area in general.   

Giff shared a story of a couple who walked into Tedford’s administrative office on a particularly cold afternoon. It was in the single digits that day with wind chills expected to dip below zero that night. This couple was sleeping in a tent and considered literally homeless, meaning that they lack a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” There wasn’t a bed available at our emergency shelter that night. He was quoted in the Times Record the next day saying how the conversation became about hoping these two individuals “would survive the night.” 

Tedford Housing’s “turn away” numbers have been shared quite frequently over the past few months. In our fiscal year 2018, we had to turn away 354 adults and 228 families who called upon us to access emergency housing. These numbers represent a significant amount of households who are homeless or on the brink of becoming homeless. Unfortunately, the numbers have held steady over the past few years.  

Merriam-Webster defines the term “safety net” as “something that provides security against misfortune or difficulty.” When we talk about the safety net of social services, people often think of public assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) or general assistance.  

Hearing our numbers, you might ask yourself what is the safety net that exists for folks who Tedford Housing cannot immediately house with temporary shelter. For us, the safety net encompasses more than just the traditional public assistance.  

When someone calls or walks into our office looking for help, we ask where they slept the night before and if they have a place to sleep that evening to help determine the immediacy of the need. If Tedford’s shelters are full and a person or family is without adequate housing for the night, we may suggest they access a shelter in another area such as Lewiston or Portland. Part of the safety net is working collaboratively with other shelters and providers to cast a wide net of resources. A more official statewide effort to connect people experiencing homelessness with resources, coordinated entry, is set to roll out this year. Families may be put on our waiting list for our family shelter and individuals may be encouraged to call our adult shelter on a regular basis to inquire about open beds. 

The person’s ties to the area may compel them to stay in the area, even in an unsafe situation. In that case, we connect the individual to one of Tedford’s case managers. The case managers primary job, as we wrote about in our last Giving Voice article, is to identify and address the barriers that are keeping clients from obtaining or maintaining housing. Tedford’s case managers can get people started with a housing search or applying for vouchers, SNAP or general assistance. Oftentimes the first step is helping people obtain necessary documentation, such as birth certificates or social security cards, so they have what they need for the above mentioned applications. Case managers may also help clients connect with medical care providers, setting up appointments with places like Oasis Free Clinics or re-connecting them with a primary care provider. The goal is to make sure the client is in a position to be able to apply for housing.  

As I wrote this article, I was interrupted by a visitor to our admin office. He was a young man looking for help with housing. I won’t share his details but he was young enough that I asked him his age so that I could refer him to the most appropriate case manager. I asked questions, made sure he had a place to go, told him about The Gathering Place and gave him the phone numbers he needed to start working on a plan. It was before our regular business hours, so he couldn’t talk directly to a case manager. He didn’t have a phone but said he’d use his friend’s phone to make calls and appointments. The mom in me hopes he makes those phone calls. 

Jennifer Iacovelli is the director of development for Tedford Housing and author of Simple Giving: Easy Ways to Give Every Day.” 

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