People experiencing homelessness are just people, in the same sense that people experiencing MS, or cancer, or old age, are just people. Here are some other parallel illustrations of the same idea. People with different skin colors are just people. Men, women, children, adolescents (whether old or young) are just people. People who follow different religious traditions are just people. People who belong to different political parties are just people. People of different nationalities are just people. People with different income levels and social status are just people. The different labels that we use rarely correlate with anything else, or if they do, it is likely to be with a prejudice that we hold.

I expect you have heard one or another of a range of prejudicial claims. Perhaps you have heard that the homeless bring crime into otherwise law-abiding neighborhoods — which is not the truth. Perhaps you have heard that communities that have homeless residents suffer a loss in property values — which is not the truth. Perhaps you have heard that the homeless are violent, or mentally ill, or lazy, or that homelessness is the result of a moral failure or a lack of education. The condition of being temporarily homeless does not correlate with any one thing. It can come to anyone, and for each who experiences it, the reasons and causes are different.

It is especially important to know that being homeless is not a permanent condition. Tedford Housing, which is one of many non-profits operating for the last 30-plus years throughout the country, has learned a great deal in its time of service. And that institutional knowledge, cumulatively shared between service providers, has developed into statewide planning and documented impacts on moving individuals and families from homeless to housed. One of the significant impacts is that many who are at risk of homelessness are moved to appropriate temporary shelter without having to spend time in an emergency shelter.

The causes of being homeless are not just personal, they are also social and systemic. We all know that available “affordable housing” is not only in short supply, but that economic forces and the lack of community support for affordable housing are big factors in the upward spiral of housing costs, and thus the ever-diminishing supply for families with limited incomes. Among the systemic issues is the number of men and women in military service who have suffered catastrophic injury, both physical and psychological, and have not received adequate care and support from the government that put them in harm’s way. Critical and catastrophic accidents, injuries and illnesses create short terms pressures on not only individuals but their families.

We have witnessed the devastating impact of Covid in the last two years, with the more than one million deaths in the United States, and the profound impact on so many families. And we are all feeling the pressures of inflationary impacts that are driving costs beyond the increase in wages for an ever-larger percentage of the population.

Another systemic issue is the lack of medical insurance for so many, and therefore the limitation on services for many simple and treatable issues. This is particularly true for mental health services. It does not help that the State of Maine has failed to meet the requirements of a longstanding Consent Decree in its failure to provide satellite mental health services around the State.


Tedford Housing has successfully developed “wrap around” services that support a wide variety of assistance to guests as they move toward securing sustainable housing. These services are coordinated by Case Management professionals and will be located in the planned new facilities or made available by in-house transportation when necessary.

The phrase “Housing First” captures the crux of the many issues that together lead to homelessness and the central importance of housing stability in maintaining or restoring successful self-determination in regaining agency in one’s life. It is the same reason that children live with their parents for much of the first three decades of their lives.

The old practice of providing emergency shelter for a night, with no place to keep clothing or other important belongings during the day, provided no stability, never mind a fixed address and a location in social space.

One of the factors in Tedford Housing’s success is that stability, especially in the programs that work to keep individuals and families in housing before they become homeless: heating assistance, rental assistance, mortgage assistance, and other community partners such as food pantries, medical services, and especially in-house case management that helps coordinate complex systems of support that keeps potentially homeless people from becoming homeless in the first place.

Telling the stories of successful transitions will be a part of our educational communication in the future. A recent example is found in the journey of a guest who was for a brief period housed in the Shelter. He is now housed, working at a sustainable job, and in his appreciation for Tedford Housing he is making a video to be used in Tedford’s educational and development work. Regaining such personal agency is the work of moving folks from homeless to housed.

Robert Stuart is a Tedford Housing board member.

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