The nights are growing longer and colder, and we are facing a large-scale humanitarian crisis across our state. It may not be completely visible to everyone, but it soon will be. Our neighbors, wherever they live in Maine, are facing unprecedented challenges. Here are some recent examples I’m aware of.

• Earlier this week, 32 people in Portland had no place to go until late afternoon, when it was already dark. A solution for one night was found. This is because the family shelter and the overflow warming center in Portland have both been full since Sept. 28.

• A family in Dover-Foxcroft with four kids lost housing after the eviction moratorium during the pandemic ended. With a newborn, they lived in tents in their in-laws’ yard this summer.

•  About 100 families in a motel in South Portland are facing eviction Dec. 31 because federal emergency rental assistance is ending. Where will they go?

• A single mom with six kids from Bangor is in a motel in Pittsfield because her family is “too large” for the shelter in the area. Federal emergency rental assistance is ending so she will soon be evicted.

• A Casco woman is living in a camper with no heat after leaving her home because of domestic violence. She is four miles from the nearest store and has no transportation.


• Pregnant residents of the Oxford Street Shelter will lose housing after they give birth because Portland’s family shelter has no room.

• A Naples resident who lives with mental illness lost his home in a fire. Community agencies funded a hotel stay that ended Nov. 18. He is now homeless.

It is cold outside and these are our neighbors. As Rabbi Joachim Prinz once wrote, “ ‘Neighbor’ is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept.”

The end of federal emergency rental assistance, which supports more than 8,500 households, is already having an impact in more than 100 cities and towns across Maine. People across the state are receiving eviction notices. These are neighbors facing homelessness in the winter with no workable alternatives. Many rural communities don’t have shelters.

As leaders and people of all faiths, we urge the governor and the Legislature to take rapid action to provide an immediate systemic response at the state level.

Churches, synagogues and faith communities have been working with municipalities and an incredible network of nonprofits to alleviate the desperation, but state leadership is an essential part of the solution to this widespread suffering.


We commend the work of the Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities on its policy recommendations. We wholeheartedly endorse a number of these recommendations, including one to create a state emergency rental assistance program that mitigates the end of the federally funded emergency rental assistance. The commission also recommends that the governor consider declaring a state of emergency to immediately increase reimbursement to municipalities. Additional federal funding is needed, and allowing asylum seekers to work before 150 days is also a critical part of the solution.

Having having heard the needs expressed across Maine, we urgently ask for:

1. State-led coordinated care for all asylum-seeking families in Maine. This care should include an emergency center for medical care, food, transportation, case management and legal services.

2. Identification of sites in strategic locations to meet the needs of newly arriving individuals and families, especially pregnant women, babies and unaccompanied minors.

3. The continuation of emergency rental assistance-type funding, which will help to provide reliable, safe shelter.

4. Direction from the state to allow municipalities to exceed General Assistance guidelines after 30 days to keep people in housing, and ensure that GA resources are used effectively and are being distributed across municipalities.

We need to support our new and longtime neighbors with the coordination that only the state can provide. This should be done in close consultation with organizations who have been urgently calling for this critical assistance for months. It is unconscionable that winter is here and our neighbors have nowhere to turn.

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