Today, we are living through one of the most intrusive medical circumstances in history, which is devastating America’s most vulnerable population. COVID-19 exacerbates the health risks faced by the homeless population, with implications that will likely remain long after the pandemic subsides. Right now, organizations helping people experiencing homelessness are unsure how this will change what it means to be “homeless,” but we recognize that change will happen.

Homeless individuals and families make up the most underserved community across the U.S. The most difficult problems facing those experiencing homelessness are income, housing, food insecurity and medical care. While on the surface these issues sound the same as the issues affecting this community prior to the pandemic, but the circumstantial problems around these issues continue to compound with time. The pandemic continues to put pressure on the entirety of the U.S. population and those experiencing homelessness.

Undoubtedly, housing is the number one problem for those experiencing homelessness, as housing is necessary for all other attributes of life. One needs a place to rest, eat and bathe. The region of southern Midcoast Maine has some of the highest housing costs in Maine, and these costs have only skyrocketed since the pandemic outbreak in March. This increase continues to diminish the area’s affordable housing market, and those with low income or who are experiencing homelessness are being pushed out. Some communities provide more services for those experiencing homelessness than other communities. But without those services, where would they go?

Approximately 550,000 people are homeless in the U.S. right now. However, studies show that number does not accurately represent the true amount of homelessness across our country, as many homeless are considered hidden. This likely changed at the beginning of the pandemic in March, as couch-surfers were kicked to the curb. Many friends and families wanted to protect their own households from the unknown dangers of the coronavirus. And while there has been a moratorium on evictions, that no doubt is helping many stay in their own homes, the expected number of homeless is sure to rise across the southern Midcoast region, the state of Maine and the entire country now that the moratorium ended last month. There have been no studies showing an increase in homeless numbers since the moratorium ended in August, but if the cases are filed, many people will have nowhere to go but the streets.

COVID-19 has created an imbalance in community organizations and programs compared to before the pandemic. Existing programs and services are not filling the current need of the Mid Coast Maine homeless and at-risk populations. Organizations have all reacted differently to the coronavirus, causing there to be unmet needs in the community. There are unmet needs because of the inequality to access in services. If one organization increases or decreases their services to a community, there is an imbalance to other organizations nurturing the same vulnerable community. The needs of Maine’s homeless population have changed since COVID-19, but the availability of services has also changed.

Even before the pandemic outbreak, southern Midcoast Maine had been assisting those experiencing homelessness and at-risk populations to the best of their ability, but it is not quite enough to assist all homeless individuals and families. The number of people experiencing homelessness has always outweighed the services available.

Today, through the partnerships between Tedford Housing, Oasis Free Clinics, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and The Gathering Place, our community continues to respond to the basic needs of southern Midcoast Maine’s vulnerable and at-risk populations. Despite the many logistical and social distancing challenges brought about by COVID-19, people experiencing homelessness in the area have still been able to access services from our community organizations, as we work together to produce long-term solutions despite the pandemic. Tedford Housing anticipates there will be an increase in the homeless population in the near future, but supported by our robust partnerships, we will be ready to tackle the new challenges ahead.

Blaine Flanders is the community and donor relations coordinator 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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