So far, we have seen a gradual easing into fall, but the nip in the air tells us what’s coming. The cooler weather is a reminder to be thankful for a home. Although having a home brings to mind a great many things, at a very basic level it is a place to retreat from the colder temperatures of our northern climate. Fall is also a time when the emergency of being without a home, and basic shelter, comes more sharply into focus.

People live in unsheltered conditions in Brunswick and the surrounding area at all times of the year. Recently, while greeting an arriving party at the train station in Brunswick, I saw a dim form wrapped around the base of a garbage can. As I looked more closely I could see that it was a human completely wrapped in a sleeping bag. It was an unseasonably warm night so there was reduced risk of frostbite or exposure, but that would not be the case for much longer.

The majority of folks we serve in our shelters have experienced some form of literally being without a home. The unsheltered experience of some of our recent guests have included:

  • Sleeping under a railroad bridge
  • Living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions in an overcrowded setting
  • Sleeping in cars
  • Sleeping in encampments
  • Sleeping in ditches and behind commercial buildings

It was just under two years ago that a Brunswick man, Russell Williams, was found dead along the railroad tracks in his sleeping bag after being outside on a bitterly cold late November night. At the time, for many that was a call to arms, and redoubling efforts to assure that his tragedy was never repeated. It was just a few months afterwards that COVID hit, and attentions were diverted to the local and global impact of the pandemic.

Since safety guidelines recommended that people shelter in place and avoid unnecessary moving, the CDC sponsored a ban on some types of evictions. In August the Supreme Court struck down another ban. Consequently, there is now no moratorium on evictions in Maine. It will take time for many of those evictions to be processed and result in actual loss of housing.

But it is anticipated that ultimately more people will be displaced and, with an already tight housing market, they will have few options for housing. For some, friends, family members, or other circumstances like a better paying job may provide a bridge to securing stable housing. A few, already living on the margins, will fall into homelessness. As I write this, we have seen an increase in requests for assistance from individuals and families either experiencing literal homelessness or on the verge of becoming homeless.

Our mission at Tedford Housing is to empower people to move from homelessness to home. For those who are at risk of homelessness, we work to resolve the crisis without them becoming homeless, through case management and housing assistance. When a household faces actual homelessness, we work to make that crisis as short as possible, and provide “wrap around” type case management to avoid a future loss of housing.

The following is a recent example of how that case management support played out: Jessie (not her real name) began her stay at Tedford’s adult shelter last spring. She had been on the streets and couch surfing. Prior to moving to the shelter she had been staying with a friend until that was no longer an option, and she was faced with nowhere to go. Jessie struggled with managing some health issues, including diabetes. For many people with underlying health issues, being without stable housing frequently makes it difficult to consistently and effectively receive medical care. Tedford continues to see an increase in people seeking assistance with chronic health problems.

Our case manager and housing navigator worked with Jessie to apply for a number of housing options, and eventually she received a STEP (Stability Through Engagement Program) voucher. In August, Jessie’s name came up on a waiting list for a property outside of Brunswick that contained project-based subsidies (apartments that actually came with a voucher attached). Her case manager assisted her with all phases of the lease-up paperwork.

She arranged for a furniture voucher at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Topsham and secured a U-Haul for the move. On moving day, her case manager even drove the van and helped Jessie move in to her new apartment. Jessie has been enjoying safe and stable affordable housing since mid-August, and now that her housing is secure, she has signed up for vocational rehabilitation and is exploring employment options. Tedford case management will continue to follow-up with Jessie as she adjusts to her new-found stability.

Tedford’s planned new facility in the Cooks Corner area will include case managers onsite and under one roof. This built-in efficiency will help keep our guests stay in shelter as short as possible. It will help us move more people in our community experiencing homelessness into housing, and create more stories of hope like Jessie’s.

Giff Jamison is the director of programs at 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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