BANGOR, Maine — As the shortage of affordable housing in Maine, along with an increase in mental health and addiction issues, continues to impact the number of people living on our streets or in shelters, there's been a continued push to help connect them to services that can help.
Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) are still being distributed in cities and towns across the state. The city of Bangor and Penobscot County are now collectively allocating nearly $350,000 to the Bangor Public Library.
Ben Treat, director of the Bangor Public Library, said they first applied for the funding last spring. The city of Bangor is awarding the library roughly $241,000 and Penobscot County is awarding it an additional $100,000.
Treat said he plans to use the money to hire more staff, including a social worker who can help connect those experiencing homelessness with important services they may need. He said on any given day there can be several dozen people who are experiencing homelessness staying at the library, especially during the cold winter months.
Treat added that the library is a "zero barrier space," meaning people can walk in and stay as long as the library is open. Some of the people who stay there throughout the day struggle with following the rules, which Treat said has been contributing to added stress on his staff.
He added the social worker will help refer people to services as well as de-escalating any problems or situations.
"A lot of libraries have social workers and they usually have some combination of referring people to services, helping to track the needs of community members and then have library services reflect those needs, and then also to support staff because it can be very stressful when you're in a service center environment or when you're in an urban environment and you have people with very very serious challenges," Treat said.
Treat said the job will be posted as soon as the description is finalized. The library hopes to hire someone for this new role as soon as possible.
The Portland Public Library also has had a staff member with a social work degree working in different roles on its staff for the last several years, according to Treat.
He said they also plan on using the ARPA funds to hire additional staff members so that each room is supervised, as well as to install newer cameras with a playback feature to make the library a safer place to spend some time.
"Sometimes things will be happening in those spaces and we don't know about it and find out from a patron, and we'd rather know for ourselves and so that we're sparing the patron the need to report," Treat said.