Homelessness has never fully been absent from the Town of Scarborough, often only hidden and overlooked. Encampments were concealed behind the trees with these individuals unnoticed unless they created a commotion or a disturbance. Cars and tents that were being utilized as “homes” camouflaged themselves within the normalcy of town. Families were being sheltered for a night or two and then returning to the unknown of what the next day would bring. But now, Scarborough needs to sound the alarm on the growing homelessness crisis in our suburban town.

The visibility of individuals experiencing homelessness is highlighted through the increased panhandling at our busy interactions and individuals seen combing through trash cans for their next meals. This “problem” and these “sights” can feel unsettling to a community as such a complex social issue doesn’t “just go away.” Scarborough Police Department and their Social Services Division has taken a proactive approach to address homelessness within the community. The model has changed from ignoring that this problem exists, to starting the conversations with individuals including, “How can I help you?” and “What do you need?”.

For someone experiencing homelessness, trying to navigate the intricate and multifaceted pathways to support services can feel extremely intimidating. Individuals may not know how to access the application for food stamps or which agencies provide case management for substance use or mental health concerns. It is vital that we offer to link individuals to resources that can provide long term care.

In Scarborough, there is a combination of those individuals tied to the community and experiencing chronic homelessness, and those who are abruptly being placed within the community at local motels as part of the Federal Rental Relief Program. Scarborough Police Department and their embedded Social Services Program is diligently partnering with these motels, social services agencies and individuals affected to preemptively address the public safety concerns that are also on the rise as the homeless population increases. To help in addressing the unmet needs of individuals, we are sitting with them and collaboratively working with them to submit referrals and obtain resources. This modality empowers individuals to secure a continuity of care that hopefully will follow with them even after they are housed. If we just place an individual in a motel for a night we are placing a band aid on the situation. If we connect them with services that band aid becomes a long-term support system.

Many times, individuals experiencing homelessness have never been offered long term resources, rather have been given a bus ticket, laundry money or a sandwich as a “quick fix.” Some of the individuals I have spoken with have declined the help of connecting them to services, and that’s okay; maybe they will reach back around when they are ready. My goal is to engage them in a conversation and offer the support in hopes of helping them again reach and sustain self-sufficiency. Scarborough Police Department and the Social Services Division are utilizing this long-term support model as a way to provide on-going empowerment and sustainability to individuals experiencing homelessness. The goal is to minimize and divert the short term, ineffective “band-aids” that individuals acquire when panhandling or digging through trash cans.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing homelessness and are in need of help navigating referrals and resources, reach out to Lauren Dembski-Martin, Social Services Navigator at 207-730-4397.

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