BANGOR, Maine — Maine has seen a break in the weather over the last few days. Despite the calendar showing "November," it has felt like May—but don't let that fool you, winter is coming.
The winter months are the hardest for the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter as more people request beds and this year those are hard to come by.
“We’ve seen an increase from people from out of town, I’m not sure if that’s directly related to the pandemic or not," Program manager Archie Curry said Tuesday.
“We’ve seen an increase [in] the population as it gets colder. I think we’re going to be able to do 32 [beds] in total," he added.
Most years, the shelter can hold around 40 people during the winter, as Bangor allows more beds to be used for warming purposes. With COVID-19 protocols in place, Curry said 32 beds are the limit.
While Curry has seen homeless flock to the shelter, Bangor Public Health & Community Services officials have seen a general decrease to the total number of homeless from earlier this fall.
“We estimated about 120-140 people outside [last month] and that number is down to about 60 which is far above what we’d like it to be," Assistant Director Rindy Fogler said.
Although the number of people looking for shelter has dropped off, the availability of shelter itself is becoming the issue. Fogler added the vacancy rate in Bangor is 1 percent, making it tough for anyone to find a place to stay.
“I don’t know that a lot of housing is going to open up and I’m very concerned," Fogler added.
The City of Bangor issued a 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday for tents and encampments near Valley Avenue to be removed from public property. A similar notice was posted to those staying near the Bangor Waterfront this fall.
Although these camps are set up away from the general public, the people staying there at night aren't always in their tents.
Downtown Coordinator and Cultural Liason for the city, Betsy Lundy, said many of the homeless spend time downtown during the day. She added Bangor is unique as it is an urban environment in a generally rural area.
The Downtown Bangor Partnership is looking to work with 'Streetplus' which provides cleaning, safety, and hospitality services to downtowns across the country.
“In order to help people, coexist, help the different populations coexist more seamlessly...while also expressing concern and responding to some very real needs of business and property owners downtown," Lundy said.
Like Curry and Fogler, Lundy has also seen more homeless people from other towns enter Bangor and added the city needs help from its neighbors to combat this shelter shortage.
“Rather than just leaving it with Bangor when really it’s people from all over looking for shelter right now," Lundy added.
Folger's best advice for those who want to give back during the holidays, donate to established organizations, and not give someone cash on the street.
Curry said his shelter always appreciates monetary donations and non-perishable food items.