BANGOR, Maine — For safety and hygiene reasons, Bangor city workers cleaned up an encampment site near the city's Hope House Health and Living Center on Tuesday.
Homelessness is a growing problem all across Maine, and Bangor has seen significantly more homeless people living outdoors this year compared to previous years. According to city officials, in years past, there were around 30 to 40 known individuals living outside; now they estimate about 170.
The direct cost of the cleanup, which includes labor and disposal work, is estimated to cost the city about $1,500.
The annual effort focuses on bringing more safety and hygiene to those who don't have a roof over their heads. That doesn't mean the people who live in these tents are being asked to leave—city workers are only clearing up trash, abandoned shopping carts, and belongings.
Assistant City Manager Courtney O'Donnell said homelessness is not something Bangor can fully solve right now.
"This is a nationwide problem, and unfortunately with the housing market as tight as it is there is no easy solution to this issue. We are doing our best as a community to approach this head-on and hopefully reduce the amount of impact it has in our area, but unfortunately, there is no known solution at this time," she told NEWS CENTER Maine.
Navigators and caseworkers will be returning on Nov. 16 to go inside the campsites to help homeless people clean their own areas.
"With the idea being that winter is going to be upon us soon and we want to make sure this area is as safe as possible," O'Donnell said. "We are really just trying to help them make plans for the winter months and to clean up the campsites so they are as safe as possible when winter, snow, and ice is upon us."
O'Donnell said the city's approach is different this year. Officials have gathered more resources to help homeless people with their needs, including mental health counseling, drug-related resources, and abuse resources. Resources are coming from United Way, Penobscot Community Health Care, and Community Health and Counseling Services.
The Ramada Inn in Bangor has served as a shelter for many homeless people since the pandemic hit, thanks to federal dollars. However, O'Donnell said that funding is ending by the end of December.
"That means they will need to move back into the Hope House from the Ramada. It is my understanding right now that the Hope House is being retrofitted to better accommodate individuals throughout the pandemic, but with the funding ending and things needing to revert back from the pandemic, that's the direction we are heading in," she said.