While homelessness has been stereotyped to depict the streets of larger Maine cities, such as Portland and Bangor, it is becoming all more present and real right here in the Scarborough community. Within the past few months there has been an influx of panhandling at the busy intersections, growing encampments hidden within the woods and more individuals walking up and down the street combing through the trash for their next meal. As these sights can certainly be alarming and concerning to some citizens, the Scarborough Police Department has been consistently receiving calls to check on the welfare or report the suspicious activity. While officers could easily respond to these calls with annoyance, asking them to move along, they have instead responded with small acts of kindness — bringing them water, buying them a meal and establishing relationships.

“It is not fair to make judgements. We do not know these individuals’ back stories and these acts of compassion and empathy create a path for conversation which can help identify additional needs.” Lauren Dembski-Martin, Social Services navigator of the Scarborough Police Department, said. “The interface with the homeless population is many times complicated by unaddressed mental health and substance use needs. While it can already be an obstacle to access resources, individuals experiencing homelessness or becoming homeless during this COVID pandemic are met with added difficulty. Shelters are not operating to full capacity or at all, social services agencies have extensive waitlists, and most face to face response is on pause.”

As the grueling heat hit town this past week, there was growing concern for the homeless population. Scarborough Police Department, using grant funds from the United Way of Greater Portland’s COVID-19 Community Relief Fund, quickly filled two dozen totes of basic necessities, including a gallon of water, snack food, hand sanitizer, toothbrush/paste, soap, and wipes. Once ready to go, Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton and the Social Services navigator visited areas known to have a homeless population to distribute. These totes will also be available for officers to utilize when needed. “This certainly is no long-term solution to the growing homelessness in our town,” Dembski-Martin remarks. “However, I am hopeful as we circulate these bags we can also have genuine dialogues, helping to figure out other unmet needs and possible solutions.”

Community members can always log onto “Scarborough Helps,” an assistance network, https://scarboroughhelps.weebly.com/ to request help for themselves, family, neighbors, or anyone they are concerned about.

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