The Maine Legislature voted this week to advance a proposal from Rep. Poppy Arford, D-Brunswick, to provide funding for capital projects at Maine’s emergency shelters for people experiencing homelessness.

“When Mainers are facing homelessness, 24-hour shelters are crucial to keeping them safe and helping them access the services they need to secure stable housing. But our shelters, like Tedford Housing, are struggling to meet the need,” Arford said in a news release. “This bill is needed to increase capacity for emergency shelter in our state.

LD 654 would create and fund the 24-hour Shelter Capital Project Program under the existing Maine State Housing Authority. The program would support new construction and expansion of emergency, 24-hour shelters for people experiencing homelessness.

The news release cites the 2020 Homeless Assessment Report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which states the number of Mainers who experience chronic homelessness increased by 135% between 2007 and 2020. Arford’s proposal is one of several bills under consideration by the Legislature to address the growing problem.

Arford said her proposal is part of a continuum of legislation submitted this session to meet the needs of Maine people experiencing homelessness, from access to emergency shelters and supportive services to rental assistance and the creation of more affordable housing.

“These bills work together to address and prevent homelessness. The goal is for every Maine resident to have an affordable, safe, permanent home,” said Arford.

“Homelessness is more than a housing crisis,” Rota Knott, executive director of Tedford Housing in Brunswick, testified at a public hearing on the bill. “It is a human services crisis, a public health crisis and economic crisis about which every single citizen should be concerned. Investing in emergency shelter will return dividends by creating housing stability that will have a significant and lasting impact for some of the most vulnerable and often disenfranchised of Maine’s people.”

“LD 654 will provide crucial funding to aid in the construction of new 24-hour emergency shelters, replace existing aging facilities like ours at Tedford Housing that cannot be renovated or expanded due to site and zoning constraints, and other shelter capital projects,” said Knott. “There is currently no funding available to support such capital projects.”

The bill earned final approval Monday in the Maine House. If funded, it will face a final vote in the Senate before being sent to the governor for consideration.

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