Last year, in the Giving Voice article “Addressing the needs of long-term shelter guests” (Jan. 11, 2019), we recognized the one year anniversary of the Long Term Stayers Initiative Southern Midcoast. Partnering with Rita De Fio, housing program manager at Sweetser, this effort increases focus on housing people who have experienced homelessness the longest in our region.

The Statewide Homeless Council first adopted the Long Term Stayers Initiative as a strategy for reducing homelessness in 2014. “Long Term Stayers” are defined as people staying over 180 cumulative days in shelters (or outdoors) within a 365-day period (not necessarily consecutive). The definition includes people in shelters or unsheltered who have been homeless for the longest period of time.

Using a Housing First approach, the initiative focuses housing resources and services on the group of people who have had the largest number of barriers to successful housing placements. Because those in this group are often frequent users of shelters, they tend to occupy shelter beds for longer periods of time and also use a disproportionate amount of publicly funded services like emergency rooms, ambulance services, detox facilities, etc. Since the effort began to track people experiencing long term homelessness, with a focus on connecting with housing and services, 243 people have been housed in Portland. Adam F Cohen reported an average cost savings of $5,853 per person for long term stayers housed in supportive housing in Portland in a study for Community Housing of Maine.

As our initiative here in the southern Midcoast completes its second successful year, the results have been encouraging. Going into 2020, 29 individuals and families experiencing long term homelessness have been housed. Instead of languishing in shelters, these households have the opportunity to move forward in their lives.

Previously, we have described homelessness as an interruption in the trajectory of a person’s life. As these scenarios illustrate, securing housing is the catalyst to jump-start forward progress:

One man in his 70s lives in a supportive housing apartment near downtown Brunswick, within walking distance of the library and Hannaford. After he was unable to remain with a family member and then living at the shelter for over six months, he has maintained his apartment for over a year.

Another, after losing his housing, camping outside for almost a year and spending a further hundred days in Tedford’s adult shelter, now lives in his own apartment in Bath.

One mother and her children, who spent over 200 days in Tedford’s family shelter, transitioned to an apartment in September. She recently resumed working full time.

In another unique situation, a mother and her daughter, having moved from another country and without some important visa and citizenship paperwork, found themselves in a number of unsafe, temporary housing situations. Many months were spent by the case manager at the family shelter tracking down the necessary documents to secure housing and employment. Ultimately, calls to Maine’s congressional delegation helped move along some of the immigration paperwork and after a record number of days in the shelter, the family moved into an apartment, and the mother secured full-time work as a CNA.

Monthly progress of our effort to house long term stayers in our area is reviewed at the MISC (Midcoast Interagency Services Collaborative) meeting, a group of service providers that meet at The Gathering Place on the second Tuesday of the month. As we move into the third year of the initiative, our goal is to connect with more people who are unsheltered – e.g. sleeping outside or in their car – and make sure they are added to our Long Term Stayers list. Even if our shelter is full, our case managers can help get people started in the process of applying for critical housing voucher applications and obtaining necessary documents required to move them along in their search for housing.

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Maine actually fell slightly, from 6,454 in 2018 to 5,886 in 2019. Unfortunately, the average length of time people remained in homelessness increased by nine days, most likely due to a tight housing market. Plans at MISC also include sponsoring a number of events, including a landlord networking session and training sessions open to the community through a curriculum called Rent Smart.

Prolonged homelessness is a predictor for poor health outcomes. It contributes to trauma for the individual and family trapped in its cycle and is cost-burdensome for shelters, emergency services and other parts of the public sector that respond to crisis often precipitated by homelessness. Our Long Term Stayers initiative is a targeted effort in reducing homelessness amongst the most vulnerable citizens in the southern Midcoast region.

Giff Jamison is the director of operations for Tedford Housing. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community. 

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