PORTLAND, Maine — A new report is shedding light on the number of people in Maine experiencing homelessness, indicating 2022 has seen a "sharp increase" from just a year ago.
This year, it found 4,411 people were experiencing homelessness in total in Maine on the day of the count, and experts anticipate the number for the entire year is higher.
Last year's Point in Time Survey counted 2,204 people who were homeless in January, far fewer than the 5,485 people tallied in June of that year.
"We know that through the pandemic, homelessness has been increasing," Dan Brennan, the director of the Maine State Housing Authority, said, adding, "I think the problem has gotten worse. The availability of places for people to live seems to be shrinking and shrinking."
Brennan explained part of the reason for the spike in homelessness numbers is due to the including this year of about 956 people who are served by federally-funded pandemic rent relief programs and are living in motels and hotels as transitionary housing.
"Numbers of people who are battling mental illness and substance abuse have always battled with housing stability," Brennan said. "Now, more and more people [are affected who] have just lost their job because of the pandemic, or can't get the number of hours, or, as we've seen recently, [are facing] increasing rents from real estate transactions."
Cullen Ryan, executive director of Community Housing of Maine, also worked on the report through Maine's Continuum of Care. He said people are "getting stuck" in homelessness because there's no way out.
"We have people who have no place to go," Ryan said. "They don’t have really complicated issues underlying their homelessness. They simply can’t find housing."
Ryan said the general public doesn't understand how expensive it is to keep people in homelessness.
"We’re spending a great deal of money to keep people homeless," Ryan said. "It costs more for somebody to be homeless, so we're educating decision-makers so they will invest resources."
Preble Street's "Rapid Re-Housing" program is designed to change that. The nonprofit has helped save the emergency services system in Maine more than $1 million since it was started in October 2020 in response to the pandemic, according to a release. In that time, Rapid Re-Housing has worked with about 100 people and helped 80 find permanent housing. About 90% of them are still in place.
"At any given time, we’re typically serving about 60 households," Erin Kelly, director of Rapid Re-Housing, said. "Each case manager is working with about 15 households at a time."
Kelly said there are more than 100 people currently on the waiting list, and that number continues to grow. At the same time, they're experiencing another problem.
"A lot of the landlords that we’ve historically worked with have seen buildings sold," Kelly said. "[In some] buildings, all of their rent in every unit [has] increased by $100 to $200."
For people like George McQuillar, the program has proven successful. He has been in his apartment on Danforth Street for about a year.
"I get up every morning, and I pray," McQuillar said. "I thank God for opening the doors to meeting people who could get me into this place."
McQuillar became homeless three years ago after he was evicted from his apartment. He said he hopes all people experiencing homelessness can get out of that situation.
"It’s scary not knowing where you’re going to lay your head at night," McQuillar said.
Brennan said MaineHousing has 24 properties around the state under construction as a long-term solution to provide more affordable housing. He said the organization is undergoing a redesign to try to better serve people experiencing homelessness with more accurate data.
Kelly landlords are eligible for incentives if they work with Rapid Re-Housing. You can learn more here.