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Penobscot County Cares organizations address '3 deadly crises'

In a meeting Wednesday, the collaboration addressed substance use disorder treatment, mental health care, and safe and affordable housing needs.

PENOBSCOT COUNTY, Maine — Penobscot County Cares hosted a Zoom meeting Wednesday to address some serious concerns in the greater Penobscot County community. The collaboration is made up of 35 organizations.

The organization believes there are "three deadly crises of our time." Those areas include a need for adequate substance use disorder treatment, more mental health care programs, and affordable housing. 

During Wednesday's meeting, the organization addressed the issue of homelessness with a possible solution through the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Penobscot County Cares invited Penobscot County Commissioners, Bangor City Councilors, and all legislators who represent the county to join the meeting. 

During the meeting, Benjamin Simons, a representative from Pallet, a business that describes itself as a "social purpose company working to end unsheltered homelessness and give people a second chance at employment," presented "village shelters" as a possible option to address homelessness. 

These shelter villages have been implemented in about 60 different communities so far. Most of those communities are located on the west coast. Several months ago, a village shelter was put in place in Boston.

"What we want to do is change the tune of how we go about sheltering people," Simons said. 

The company offers two different units, one 64 sq. ft. and another 100 sq. ft. These units are capable of housing 1-4 people. 

"They come with their own locking door, a bunk, a mattress, and really important safety features such as a hard-wired CO smoke detector, egress doors, lights, outlets, [and] wall-mounted fire extinguishers," Simons said.

The units also offer climate control options. But, some things need to be determined by communities ahead of time.

"What the customer is responsible for is things like site work and infrastructure. We can't do electrical connections. We can't do the staking because we're not general contractors," Simons said.

These shelters are not cheap. Each unit costs between $10,000-$13,000. Doug Dunbar, Penobscot County Cares co-founder, said he believes funds from the American Rescue Plan are the solution.

"Penobscot County is receiving roughly $30 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. The city of Bangor is receiving about $20 million. And the surrounding towns and cities are receiving about $10 million total," Dunbar said.

Dunbar said that's where county commissioners and city councilors come in to play. The results of these shelters speak for themselves. 

"The average rate of success we see across communities is about 50% of people successfully transition to permanent housing," Simons said.

Simons added the average stay per person in one of their communities is about three to six months.

This meeting was the first of a series Penobscot County Cares is hoping to continue. Its goal is to raise awareness of important issues in the community and develop solutions that could be made possible through funding from local and state governments. 

Dunbar said it's time to act now.

"We may never again see a moment like this where millions and millions and millions of dollars are made available," Dunbar said.

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