A bill aimed at addressing homelessness across Maine by providing $3 million for 24-hour-shelters could boost a Brunswick shelter’s efforts to expand.

Though still in the early stages, if approved, the bill would establish a program through the Maine State Housing Authority, an independent agency created to address housing problems, that would help fund the construction and expansion of shelters across the state.

According to Tedford Housing Executive Director Rota Knott, if the bill passes, Tedford could apply. The funds could potentially help them build a new Brunswick shelter that would allow them to increase their capacity.

Knott said the organization is unable to expand at its current site due to the town’s zoning restrictions. “We have come to the conclusion that we’re going to have to build,” Knott said in an interview.

Tedford Housing operates two shelters in Brunswick, a 16-bed adult shelter and a six-unit apartment-style family shelter.

During the 2020 fiscal year, Tedford served 57 individual adults and 53 family members in their two shelters, according to Knott’s testimony in support of the bill. However, Tedford turned away 307 individuals and 146 families, which includes 249 children, due to a bed scarcity.

When COVID-19 broke out, Tedford opened its adult shelter to 24-hours, since other places that guests could go to be secure in the winter closed down. To regulate social distancing, their adult shelter is down to 10 beds.

The program would be funded one-time through state general funds and has also gathered support from other shelters statewide.

“I invite you to see 24-hour shelters as the emergency room of our statewide housing system,” wrote Poppy Arford, the Brunswick state representative sponsoring the bill. “As hospital emergency rooms are central to stabilizing those facing significant medical distress, 24- hour shelters play a similar role for those experiencing homelessness.”

Arford said she was moved to sponsor the bill following the 2019 death of Russell Williams, a 64-year-old man who was experiencing homelessness in Brunswick and was found dead in his sleeping bag.

“I remember learning about this tragedy and feeling so helpless,” . “I can say that this bill is something I can do, we can all do, to keep homeless people safe.”

According to The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2020 annual homeless assessment report, on one night in January of 2020, 2,097 Maine people were homeless, 141 of which were unsheltered. This translates to 15.6 out of every 10,000 people experiencing homelessness in Maine on that day.

“We know those numbers are low,” said Knott, noting that the study only reflects one point in time, and for a variety of reasons, people go uncounted.

“It’s something, but it’s not a true picture of the magnitude of the problem in the state or any state,” Knott said.

In an interview, Arford said that 24-hour shelters for people experiencing homelessness is ultimately still temporary housing, but the facilities will hopefully provide the first step towards permanent housing.

Arford is currently serving her first term in the Maine House of Representatives for District 49, which encompasses the western half of Brunswick.

According to a list on the Maine State Housing Authority’s website, there are 42 emergency shelters in Maine.

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