Bangor’s Homelessness Crisis - Part 2: New programs, new challenges

Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 11:22 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - It’s been 10 months since the City of Bangor received $20 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many we spoke with are wondering how - or if - the City can use some of that money to address the ongoing homelessness crisis.

Tom Krosnowski found out more about a new police program and other measures the City is considering as the challenges mount.

“BCAT is going to help these people try to get connected to services,” Sgt. Jason McAmbley of the Bangor Police Department said. “Unless they engage, they’re still going to be homeless.”

BCAT is the Bangor Community Action Team. The city will hire four social workers to respond to welfare checks instead of police, something McAmbley says could take up to 2,000 calls that often don’t require police off the table for a shorthanded staff. It’ll be another community resource but one he says needs to properly utilized.

“There are groups that go out literally every week to reach out to the homeless encampments and offer them mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, medical services, employment, training, whatever,” McAmbley said. “There are resources for it, and less than 30 percent of those people take them up on any one of those things.”

It’s a program approved by City Council this year, and City Council Chair Rick Fournier says it won’t be the last. He plans to meet with Penobscot County officials to decide how they can use a combined $50 million in federal funding. Allocations, he says, could come within three months. It’s something Bangor Police will be watching closely.

“Where are they going to spend that money?” McAmbley said. “Who are they going to get to help them fix it? Because the police department is not going to solve the homeless issue. We just aren’t. We’ll fight the crime. We’re not the homeless police.”

Fournier says Bangor - and all of Maine - could be dealt a damaging blow by next week.

“Emergency Rental Assistance, that money is going away effective November 1,” Fournier said. “Within the city of Bangor, there are 950 households that will be affected. In other words, they won’t be able to pay their rent.

“To me, that’s a crisis situation.”

He says that decision is up the State, just like any decision on using the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center to aid the city’s homelessness crisis. Fournier said they’ve reached out on these issues. In the meantime, he expects the coming winter to force some change.

“During the winter months, those (homeless) numbers got down to 30 or 40 (people). That’s not a real solution, but it forces people to make decisions.

“We’re all trying to make this work as best we can. We know it’s an issue, and we’re working it.”