Josh Forsberg, 26, is currently out of work, and has been living at a hotel in South Portland for the past two weeks.

“I don’t have many resources to reach out to,” he said.

But a proactive program launched by the South Portland Fire Department is giving Forsberg and other homeless people living in local hotels access to basic supplies, connections to aid programs, basic health care such as blood pressure monitoring and someone to listen.

Forsberg stood in line at a small tent in the back of the parking lot of the hotel Tuesday morning (hotel management requested The Forecaster not identify it by name). Under the tent, South Portland Firefighter/Paramedic Patrick Mendelsohn and Capt. John Martin spoke with members of the homeless community staying at that particular hotel.

At least 150 people with no fixed address are living in local hotels, in part due to overflow from shelters in Portland, which have slashed capacity during the pandemic. All of the homeless at the hotel on Tuesday told The Forecaster that General Assistance coordinators based in Portland helped them find the housing at the hotel. Many are immigrants from other countries, some only just arriving in Maine within the past few weeks.

The fire department has secured a grant that will allow it to visit area hotels twice a week for the rest of the year, setting up tents like the one Mendelsohn stood under. Sometimes, he said, people take him up on his offer of free backpacks containing items such as a rain poncho, socks, a first-aid kit and non-perishable food. Sometimes, they need basic medical care such as blood pressure checks. Others are looking to connect with job placement or health care services, which the department can also provide.

Some people, Mendelsohn said, just want someone to talk to.

“We just chat and see if anything is lacking,” he said.

For many of those staying at the hotels, there are many options for health care, but those options often depend on a fixed address.

Francis Luwawu, 45, a Congolese immigrant, arrived in America with his wife and family in April, and they have been staying at the hotel for the past two weeks. With his daughter, Grace, 15, as an interpreter, he said his wife is sick, and the family is getting help through a local clinic, but the wait is long for an appointment and for extensive paperwork to be processed. He said he liked having access to basic health care outside his door through the department’s program.

“I feel happy with what they have,” he said.

When asked where the family would be living without the help of General Assistance or the hotel, Grace said, “I don’t know, maybe in the streets.”

Megan Oliver, 31, has been homeless for at least five years, due in part to a medical condition that prevents her from working and requires regular treatment, she said. She got access to Portland’s General Assistance program and a room at the hotel through Greater Portland Health, where she goes for routine care.

“I went in for a doctor’s appointment, and I was literally living in the car,” she said.

Oliver said the important thing the fire department gives her is someone to talk to. The idea that the department even thought of setting up the program to help people like her, she said, means a lot to her.

“Knowing that there are people who do care, it gives you hope,” she said.

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