Last year, the Town of Scarborough secured a $15,000 Cumberland County Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to assess the unhoused population in Scarborough. Funding was allocated to first conduct a grassroots field assessment, including in-depth conversations with those unhoused, then, to develop policy and strategy from the data collected.

In July 2023, the Town of Scarborough contracted with Portland-based Milestone Recovery to help in the field assessment process of unhoused individuals within the community. Milestone’s HOME Team is an outreach program working collaboratively with police, Emergency Medical Services and local businesses. The team helps to navigate the mental, physical, and behavioral health challenges those experiencing homelessness may encounter providing basic necessities, medical care, referrals and transportation to emergency shelter programs, and/or assistance programs.

Scarborough’s Social Services division and Milestone’s HOME Team worked diligently throughout August-October 2023 to provide outreach and conversations with Scarborough’s unhoused population. They collected 13 assessments, with one of the first highlighted observations being that the unhoused population in Scarborough has significantly decreased since 2022. Scarborough’s Social Services division has also witnessed a substantial decrease in individuals utilizing the lots of big box stores to park the vehicles they are employing as shelter, as well as a decrease in the number individuals setting up and utilizing encampments.

This decrease has been occurring over time. In 2022, contact was made with over 60 individuals identifying as being without shelter. In August 2023, 15-17 unhoused individuals were identified in the Scarborough community. In January 2024 only 6-8 individuals were identified. One of the greatest questions being asked is what causes these variations. In the next few months, the work of the CBDG will continue as members of a local taskforce begin to assess the data and work with a consultant to develop future action steps.

The Social Services division fields several calls a month from community members wondering why individuals will not access the local shelter with temperatures dropping below freezing.

Data collected from the 13 outreach assessments indicated that 12 of those individuals were “willing to be housed/sheltered.” It is critical to mention that the perception of housing and shelter varies. Several of these individuals stated they were willing access their own motel room or apartment space, but were hesitant to access the shelter in Westbrook due to their own trauma histories and close-knit space, fear of bed bugs, having a service animal that is not allowed or being denied at the shelter in the past. Due to the sweeps of encampments that occurred in Portland in December 2023 and January 2024, there were several weeks that the Homeless Services Center in Westbrook was closed to any individuals not identifying as living in a Portland encampment. These challenges and hurdles continue to be navigated.

The Social Services division collaborates on a daily basis to ensure community members, including those unhoused, are assisted in navigating the complex and rocky waters of mental health systems, housing authorities, and other community support resources. Much like a jigsaw puzzle, individuals present with several pieces and just need that little help in fitting them together.

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