Homelessness in our community is of rising concern, and attempting to figure out how to assemble together the intricate pieces causing the issue can feel daunting. The challenges that have surfaced through the statewide acute homelessness crisis continue to emerge on a daily basis, resulting in community members feeling frustrated, helpless and alarmed.

It is well known that there is a shortage of affordable housing in Maine. The statistics are startling:

• In the 2021 Fiscal Year, 5,485 people experienced homelessness in the State of Maine. We know this is an undercount, as the numerous individuals placed in motels as a form of temporary housing are not included in this total.*

• 26,000 Maine households are on waiting lists for federal rental assistance, often waiting five to 10 years.*

• More than 35,000 renter households, spread throughout all areas of Maine, are severely rent burdened — that is, paying more than half of their incomes for rent and utilities.*

In the recent weeks, Scarborough Public Safety staff, including myself as Social Services navigator, have set out to explore and brainstorm attainable and collaborative solutions. On Thursday, July 14, Scarborough Police Department held a “Community Conversation” in the Public Safety building. Our goal was to provide education on the growing homelessness population while collectively hearing from residents. There were about 15 individuals in attendance.


Cullen Ryan, executive director of Community Housing of Maine, informed participants that it can be helpful to think of our homeless populations as distinct groups: Long Term Stayers, Circumstantially Homeless, Unaccompanied Youth, and Victims of Domestic Violence.

“Each group needs a specific intervention,” Cullen said. “Fortunately, we know these interventions work well. We just need more of them.”

Of the 5,485 people experiencing homelessness in 2021, 134 people were Long Term Stayers, or people who have experienced 180 days or more of homelessness in a 12-month time period. Long Term Stayers, or those experiencing chronic homelessness, are almost exclusively single adults with serious and persistent mental illness and/or substance use disorder. This population made up about 1.5 percent of the homeless population in 2019 after declining from around 5 percent in 2013.

“These people need to be inside, engaged, and moved into permanent supportive housing,” said Ryan. “This is the group that tends to be most noticeable, and also the group the tends to ricochet through our most expensive emergency systems when unhoused — but remarkably stops that once housed.”

Ryan broke down the cost savings that comes after housing those experiencing chronic homelessness. “Ensuring people have adequate support for mental health issues and substance use disorder will always help this small percentage of our population locally,” he said. “One emergency room visit costs at least $1,000 and hospitalization about $1,000/day. Jail is $900/day, and shelter is $1,200/month at least. Permanent supportive housing is about $1,400-1,500/month in this area. This is a bargain when compared to $160,000/year for psychiatric

Ryan described a second group, about 75 percent of the homeless population, as circumstantially homeless — generally just briefly homeless due to lack of affordable housing or other similar issues. “We invented this type of homelessness when we cut funding for housing and other HUD programs in 1981 and 2001 and essentially ever since. Unless we begin to consider and fund housing as basic infrastructure, we are going to see this type of circumstantial homelessness, and serious challenges for young people and our workforce as they try to afford to live near where they work,” he said.


The final categories of homeless populations are victims of domestic violence and unaccompanied youth who cannot be reunited with their families. These populations benefit from transitional supportive housing.

Following his presentation, residents shared their safety concerns around the growing population of individuals experiencing homelessness in Scarborough. Others made suggestions of possible support measures. Public Safety personnel that were present at the Community Conversation offered awareness and validation around the increased pan-handling and motels housing individuals and families under the Emergency Rental Relief Program.

As Scarborough’s Social Services navigator, each and every day I am reaching out to these individuals. This is a state level emergency. This housing crisis and lack of other mental health and substance use resources is not going to end any time soon. My ultimate goal is to find out how I can be helpful and link them to services in the moment that will provide them with a continuity of care and/or reconnect them to past support systems.

Social Services Navigator Lauren Dembski-Martin, and Community Policing Sergeant Steve Thibodeau are planning on facilitating another “Community Conversation” later this summer.

For any questions, call 730-4397.

*Statistics provided by Community Housing of Maine

Comments are not available on this story.