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Maine’s homeless population faces unique challenge amid coronavirus pandemic

Preble Street calling for an immediate and concerted COVID-19 response to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness right now.

MAINE, USA — Maine’s homeless population faces uncertainty and challenge daily. What is happening to them in this time of crisis, when we’re facing the spread of coronavirus

On Monday, the White House said they are recommending for the next 15 days, everyone work from home, avoid bars and restaurants, and avoid groups of more than ten people. 

Minimizing gatherings to 50 or fewer people is difficult at a soup kitchen where countless people depend on a hot meal. 

Preble Street reports that at their largest soup kitchen they serve 300 people at each meal, "and on any given night 400-500 men, women, and children are homeless in Portland." 

Director of the Maine Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Dr. Nirav Shah gave some additional things a person can do to stay healthy amid the coronavirus crisis. 

In his conference on Monday, he said to eat a good meal, get a good night’s sleep, spend time with family and avoid large gatherings. “Aspects of our lives will be postponed or suspended,” he added. "This is a time of uncertainty, a time of great challenge.”

According to Preble Street press release, on Sunday night the City of Portland Oxford Street Shelter took in 174 men and women, and Preble Street sheltered 64 women and teens.

For those in need, Preble Street is keeping the following essential services open:

  • Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter and Teen Center drop-in
  • Florence House women’s shelter and apartments
  • Logan Place
  • Huston Commons
  • Food Programs
  • Resource Center targeted services

Most shelters are at capacity already. Boyd Kronholm, Executive Director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter (BAHS), a private, non-profit shelter, said they were scaling back services. In 2018, BAHS opened an overnight warming center that allows people to come in and warm up, grab a snack and coffee. BAHS has closed the warming center (two weeks early) to focus on current guests. BAHS provides services 365 days a year.

Upon direction from officials and the need to implement social distancing to prevent the unintended spread of the coronavirus, the Gathering Place located in Brunswick made the difficult decision to close effective March 16. 

"This is a place that offers a communal space for people to gather for a meal- with the new guidelines set forth, the Gathering Place is making the decision in order to keep the community safe," they said.

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While many businesses and organizations in towns are closing down or limiting hours in response to COVID-19, partner sites are stepping up to ensure that one of Maine’s most marginalized groups are still able to get food. 

Tedford Housing located in Brunswick is normally an overnight facility. Due to the Gathering Place closing, Tedford Housing is redoubling its efforts to serve its shelters guests, supportive housing tenants and outreach clients in the safest way possible, according to their website. 

Tedford Housing is currently at capacity. However, they will now be open 24-hours a day to provide for their current guests.

 “Options are limited for homeless people,” Executive Director Rota Knott said.

Tedford Housing is implementing the following social distancing plan, according to their website:

  • Starting Tuesday, March 17th, Tedford Housing’s adult shelter will be open 24 hours for its 16 guests.
  • All Tedford Housing offices, shelters and supportive housing buildings will be closed to the public.
  • No new guests will be admitted to the adult shelter or the family shelter.
  • Non-shelter staff will be working remotely as much as they can and face-to-face meetings will be limited.
  • Shelter guests with a fever or other symptoms will be referred for medical care and must show clearance by a medical professional in order to re-enter the shelter.
  • Staff members who have a fever or other symptoms or who have a symptomatic member of their household will be referred for medical care. Staff must show clearance by a medical professional in order to return to work.
  • Volunteers delivering meals to the adult shelter should leave food outside and ring the doorbell upon arrival to alert staff that the meal has arrived.

Mid Coast Hunger Prevention normally provides a place for people to come in and eat. Again, with the need for social distancing amid this outbreak, providing meals for those in need remains paramount but it will now be offered as a pick-up service. Lunches and food boxes will be prepared to-go.

Ann Sweeney, founder of Hope for Homeless in Bangor said, "there is no long-range plan for our friends who are facing homelessness, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 health crisis." 

The homeless population is already at greater risk of getting sick. 

“Where do they go if they come down with this virus,” Sweeney asked. “There is no place for them to be quarantined,” Sweeney said. "Some of our guests are employed but cannot afford rent, making this a very difficult situation. Monies being provided in response to the coronavirus outbreak do not allow even one dollar to the homeless." 

"Our community cares and these people are part of our community and deserve assistance," she said.

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On behalf of all shelters and soup kitchens across the state of Maine, Preble Street released recommendations urging our elected and public officials at local, state and federal levels to work on the following:

  • Opening additional facilities to prevent overcrowding
  • Implementing a robust plan for quarantining people who test positively: The current quarantine plan for this population is limited and needs to be expanded
  • Enacting a moratorium on evictions
  • Ensuring General Assistance for rent and food is robust and accessible and that regulations are thoroughly publicized so fewer people need to resort to shelters and soup kitchens.

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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