An update on the state of the unhoused in Scarborough was presented to the Town Council by Lauren Dembski-Martin, the Social Services Manager and navigator for Scarborough Police Department, Feb. 7 Town Council meeting. The good news is that findings show a steady decline of unhoused people in Scarborough since 2022.

Thanks to the receipt of a $15,000 Cumberland CDBG grant — secured by Dembski-Martin and Karen Martin — a grass roots field assessment of the town’s unhoused population took place last year. In addition to the assessment, funds were used for policy development. In July, the town contracted with Milestone Recovery, based in Portland, to conduct the field assessment. Milestone’s HOME Team, collaborating with various local entities, provides outreach services including basic needs, medical care, referrals, and transportation to emergency shelters or assistance programs for individuals experiencing homelessness.

Dembski-Martin spoke about the progress made since securing the CDBG grant last summer. Dembski-Martin highlighted the initial phase of the grant, which involved community-based assessments and data collection to better understand the scope of homelessness in Scarborough.

“Throughout August-October 2023, Scarborough’s Social Services division and Milestone’s HOME Team diligently conducted outreach and conversations with the unhoused population,” Dembski-Martin wrote. “We collected 13 assessments, noting a significant decrease in Scarborough’s unhoused population since 2022. There has also been a notable decline in individuals utilizing big box store parking lots as shelter and setting up encampments.” The trend of decrease has been consistent; in 2022, over 60 individuals were contacted, whereas in August 2023, 15-17 were identified, and in January 2024, only 6-8 individuals were noted. “One of the greatest questions is what causes these variations,” she stated.

The Social Services division received inquiries about individuals avoiding the local shelter despite freezing temperatures. Out of 13 assessments, 12 were willing to be housed, but preferences vary due to past trauma, fear of bed bugs, service animals, or past denials. Closure of the Westbrook shelter to non-Portland encampment residents during sweeps in Dec. 2023 and Jan. 2024 added hurdles.

“We were utilizing motels as shelters, but I was seeing an influx of dealing with folks in motels, folks in encampments, folks living out of vehicles,” said Dembski-Martin, reflecting on the challenges faced in 2022.


“We are really excited about what we’re seeing and the data that was collected,” Dembski-Martin said. The progress made includes sheltering individuals at homeless services centers, securing long-term housing with support services, and facilitating relocations closer to service providers.

The data collected revealed specific areas where unhoused populations were concentrated, such as Gorham Road and the Payne Road Corridor. Assessments showed that critical needs include: housing vouchers, access to showers, dental care, case management, and obtaining identification documents. Despite progress, challenges remain, particularly with accessing shelter options in neighboring communities like Westbrook.

Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina commended the efforts, “I just want to thank you and the other navigators for the hard work you do.”

Council chair Nick McGee expressed appreciation for the work done, acknowledging the complexities involved in addressing homelessness effectively.

Looking ahead, the taskforce will analyze data and develop future action steps.

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