BANGOR, Maine — For a little more than a year, the Ramada Inn in Bangor has served as a homeless shelter for more than 50 people.
Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars used to lease the hotel are drying up by the end of the year. But during that time, the Hope House Health and Living Center in Bangor was being renovated.
Lori Dwyer is the president and CEO of Penobscot Community Health Center, which managers the shelter. She said housing folks at the hotel was a positive learning experience for her and her staff.
"We've learned a lot about what a little bit of privacy and space does for people. It really puts them in the position to better receive services and better receive the supports that are being offered to them," Dwyer said.
Starting early in December, the homeless people living at the Ramada Inn will all be moved to the Hope House.
"We have been consistent since the beginning of October, working to house people and reduce the population as much as we possibly can at the Ramada in the most compassionate manner we are able to," Dwyer said.
For the past year, all 60 beds at the hotel were exclusively reserved for homeless people. The Hope House moved the people to the hotel in an effort to keep them safer following COVID protocols.
"Prior to the pandemic, we could sleep 66 people a night. Without these renovations, we would've had to reduce our capacity between 30 and 35 people to adhere to physical distancing protocols. With the renovations ... we are going to be able to fit approximately 50 people back into the shelter," Dwyer said.
Dwyer said even though there is a loss of 16 beds with the reconfiguration plan, they will be able to accommodate 50 people with enough social distancing guidelines. She said those 50 spots will be taken by the people who now call the Ramada home.
"It allows us to get not the same number of people back in that we had pre-pandemic, but it will allow us to increase the numbers because we are using some very innovative sleeping pods and floor plans that are increasing the number of people that we can get back in," she said.
Dwyer said the rehousing efforts at the Hope House along with other community partners never stopped, but with the current housing market, finding affordable housing options has become a big challenge. She said affordable housing is the way to take people away from homelessness.
"Most people's instances of homelessness is 14 days or less," Dwyer said.
Dwyer sees affordable housing as the number one long-term solution to homelessness.
"That is the biggest component that is missing from this region's ability to house people. Secondarily, we have been talking as a community about the long-term supportive house for folks who are chronically experiencing a condition of being not at home," she said.
Dwyer said the Hope House is already closed to new people looking for a bed.
"Being closed to new intakes, of course, puts lots of pressure on different parts of the response system in the region. That includes emergency departments, jails, police, etc., and our other shelter partners, so it has placed a burden on the rest of the system."