An apartment at Huston Commons, a 30-unit building in Portland for tenants who have previously been homeless. Tenants put 30% of their income toward the rent, while HUD funds cover the remainder. Contributed / Preble Street

Between skyrocketing housing costs and a pandemic that hobbled social services, the homelessness situation in southern Maine has become dire.

But before the problem can be solved, it must be understood. That, too, is difficult due to a lack of statistics and other information needed before the area’s safety nets can be repaired.

Lakes Region towns Naples, Bridgton, Sebago, Casco and Baldwin have partnered with Tedford Housing in Brunswick to determine the causes of homelessness locally.

“Bridgton is in need of understanding the extent of homelessness and of finding ways to combat it,” Bridgton Community Development Director Linda LaCroix said.

No statistics are available for how many homeless people from the Lakes Region seek services in Portland, but Cumberland County Public Affairs Director Travis Kennedy said while the numbers “are not enormous,” they are problematic, coming at a time when Portland’s services are overburdened.

A study to be conducted in late spring will collect data in the Lakes Region communities. Tedford Housing hopes to present its recommendations from the study by the end of the year.


“We know there are some challenges with homelessness, but we don’t have a good picture of what that is. We don’t have a good picture of the number of people who are literally homeless or living in cars or other places that aren’t suitable for habitation,” said Tedford Housing Executive Director Rota Knott. “We need to evaluate what’s going on. From there, we can evaluate potential solutions and make some recommendations as to how to address these issues.”

Homelessness outside of Maine’s larger cities like Portland and Lewiston can be hidden, or at least less visible, and therefore more difficult to assess and tackle, Knott said.

“It’s harder to address because you have people doubling up in their homes, sleeping in cars and families separating,” she said.

The lack of resources in the Lakes Region means unsheltered residents are sent to Portland for help. Portland is now housing about 1,150 people per night, largely due to a recent influx of refugees and asylum-seekers. That’s double the number the city sheltered during an influx in 2019, city officials have said.  The city has been forced to set up satellite shelters at hotels and motels elsewhere, such as in South Portland and Freeport.

Two South Portland hotels sheltering the homeless announced last month that they will no longer provide rooms for 290 homeless tenants as of May 31.

LaCroix is eyeing a multi-faceted solution.


“We understand that it takes a full circle approach with housing, jobs, training, mental health services and more. Delving in the housing issue directly will provide Bridgton with a critical path to uplifting disadvantaged folks here,” LaCroix said.

Permanent support housing – rental units with assigned case managers – might help, Knott said.

“It’s really important, when we can, to keep folks close to home and close to their family, their network of social support. It’s important to address the challenges facing people in the Lakes Region that puts them into homelessness so they don’t have to come to Portland or Brunswick for shelters and other support services.”


The Greater Portland Council of Governments’ 20-member Metro Regional Coalition, meanwhile, is advocating for a comprehensive approach to the homeless problem. The coalition is seeking “regional solutions that spread the costs of providing shelter and services to those suffering homelessness,” according to Amy Kuhn, the coalition’s chairperson and chairperson of the Falmouth Town Council.

The coalition has asked Gov. Janet Mills to agree to the city of Portland’s request that the state fund general assistance costs for the refugees if federal funding becomes unavailable, and it has proposed that the state establish an Office of Resettlement Services.


A rendering of Preble Street’s 24/7 wellness shelter under construction at 5 Portland St. Contributed / Preble Street

“Without state support, today’s crisis will get worse,” reads a letter the coalition sent to Mills. “As the winter ends, hotels will become unavailable as temporary emergency shelters. New housing must be expedited to avoid an even bigger problem. Our community leaders hope we can work together to find solutions.”

The coalition wants to work with the state to “find innovative housing solutions,” such as tiny homes, shipping container conversions and remodeling empty commercial spaces.

But housing alone won’t solve the “incredibly complex” issue of homelessness, said Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swan.

Swann said “a robust and accessible behavioral health system, mental health services and substance use disorder services, accessible and professionally run system of shelters and livable wages” are also needed.

Preble Street is building a 24/7 wellness shelter in downtown Portland at 5 Portland St. that will provide social services and individual assessments. It also has purchased a building at 75 Darling Ave. in South Portland for a new food security hub that will be fully operational by 2023. The Locker Project, a nonprofit that works with 40 Portland-area schools to provide more than 35,000 pounds of food each month, and the Cumberland County Food Security Council are partnering with Preble Street to expand their services.

Homelessness can also be battled at the individual level, Swann said.

“Volunteer at an area food program, soup kitchen, or homeless shelter,” he said. “Support those efforts with food drives, clothing drives, financial support. Get involved as an advocate, lend your voices to those whose voices are often ignored or not heard. Speak up for those issues related to social and economic justice.”

Tedford Housing in Brunswick is conducting a study in Lakes Region towns this year to get a handle on the causes and extent of homelessness in that area. Contributed / Tedford Housing

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