About six people are living outdoors along the Payne Road area in Scarborough, but the number of unhoused people in town has decreased, according to town officials.

As of August 2023, there were roughly 20 people without shelter, compared to fewer than 10 now. In addition to the six on Payne Road, two to three people go back and forth between receiving general assistance and being unhoused, said Lauren Dembski-Martin, the town’s social services navigator.

Although those numbers are small compared to Portland and other areas with homeless crises, the social services department and the Town Council have said that homelessness is a persistent town issue that needs to be addressed.

The town has been developing data on its homeless population as part of a two-phase program funded in part by a $15,000 county grant it received in July. The first phase, data collection, has been completed and those findings were presented Wednesday to the Scarborough Housing Alliance.

This past August, as many as 10 people were living off Payne Road, more than most other places in town combined.

“One reason is because it is a busy area, they’re able to access dumpsters at night and that’s how they’re actually getting some of their food,” Dembski-Martin said.


In addition, she said, the area also provides bus routes that link up with other bus networks in Portland and South Portland, where they’re able to access more services.

“There’s a substantial decrease in individuals using the parking lots and employing their cars as shelter,” Dembski-Martin said. “I would come in contact with maybe 15 to 20 individuals (in parking lots in the past), so that has significantly decreased.”

The town contracted with Milestones Recovery, a Portland-based organization that provides services for unhoused people, including recovery from substance use disorder and help finding housing. Milestone’s HOME Team provides rides and some services for Scarborough’s unhoused and a nurse one day a week to tend to basic medical needs.

The team also helped the social services department assess the needs of 13 homeless people between July and August. Aside from housing, their biggest need was access to showers, followed by food, dental care and bus passes, and then more individual-based needs like substance-use treatment, workforce training and obtaining IDs.

Housing vouchers were secured for many folks, but Dembski-Martin said the voucher process and then finding eligible housing can take months to a year. In the meantime, they placed some people at shelters in Portland, but that has become more difficult. Portland’s new shelter in the Riverside area was closed in December to anyone who was not living in a Portland encampment.

Karen Martin, the executive director of the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation, said there were initial concerns that the encampment sweeps in Portland could lead more people to Scarborough.


“That doesn’t seem to be happening for one reason or another,” Martin said.

It’s difficult to get a handle on the entire unhoused population in Scarborough, Dembski-Martin said, because homelessness comes in different forms, including people temporarily staying with friends or family. Some identified as doing so in Scarborough have been high schoolers.

There are also some people social services and the HOME Team have contacted that refuse services. Two have done so for years.

“(Dembski-Martin) has been in touch with them for three years, consistently,” said Town Manager Tom Hall. “They move from place to place and they have, countless times, passed up actual housing vouchers.”

Dembski-Martin did say she is close to securing a motel room for them to stay in for a few weeks to get them out of the cold.

The next phase of the grant project will be policy work.


“How do we take the assessment and translate that into actions?” Martin asked. “What range of actions would be appropriate for Scarborough?”

The Housing Alliance discussed a route the Town Council has talked about in the past: adjusting zoning to permit affordable and workforce housing at hotels and motels. Some hotel owners previously expressed interest in that, but those requests have since ceased, Hall said.

“I think it’s worth the effort, just because I’m trying to be proactive with zoning in town,” said Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina. “It’s a tool in the toolbox.”

Bryan Shumway, a Housing Alliance committee member, said hotel and motel conversions are a trend he’s seen elsewhere.

“This is something that’s done to create affordable housing and workforce housing,” he said. “With interest rates rising and construction costs going up, the more tools the better.”

Hall suggested the Housing Alliance continue exploring that solution in case it’s a tool the council wants to take up for consideration again.

“It’s resurfaced and it’s something this committee was passionate about,” he said. “I think you might want to get re-engaged.”

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