BANGOR, Maine — Homelessness and affordable housing were the common denominators when asking Bangor city council candidates about the city's biggest challenges.
These issues are not unique to Bangor, but it has grown in the past years.
Dina Yacoubagha said she has a sense of belonging in Bangor that she has never felt anywhere else in the U.S. Her goal is to improve the city for everyone else.
She said besides homelessness, substance use disorder and mental health should all be tackled together.
"To address homelessness we have to address those issues together. They are intertwined," she said.
"What I have in mind is what we call structured transitional housing or what we can also call sober home housing, funding the agencies and organizations that provide mental health services, and increasing the number of treatment centers," Yacoubagha said.
Yacoubagha said it's critical that Bangor connects with neighboring municipalities to find potential solutions for the people who are coming to Bangor to live in the streets.
"They can support Bangor in addressing this problem since Bangor is serving individuals from all of these municipalities," Yacoubagha said.
If elected, she said economic growth is also at the top of her list of things to tackle.
"Supporting our local businesses and advertising for downtown Bangor as a destination, I want to focus on also reviving the cultural activities that we use to have in the downtown area," she added.
Yacoubagha is hoping the city council can find ways to attract people to stay in Bangor but knows that there needs to be a better transportation system in order to do that.
Incumbent city councilor Gretchen Schaefer is running for re-election. She said affordable housing is the cities biggest challenge.
"However getting the ARPA funds distributed, is going to be a major decision that the council has to make coming up, and figuring where to spend that surplus stimulus money and housing will definitely be an area that I would focus on," Schaefer said.
She said fixing homelessness is not something that can just be done at the city level. "It has to be in conjunction with the county, the state, and the federal level because this is not an issue that's exclusive to Bangor," she said. "It's more visible in Bangor just because we are a service city."
Schaefer tells NEWS CENTER Maine her first term as a city councilor in Bangor has been a lot of listening and learning.
"Most of my term has been under the shadow of the pandemic, so it has been very reactive and very responding to what it is that we need to do, I really hope that in a future term, we would be able to move out of the pandemic reactive phase and move into a more proactive phase and really start building on some of the great things that Bangor has been working towards," said Schaefer.
Schaefer said she would like to see the municipal broadband project come to fruition, something the city has been working on getting for people, kids, and businesses to have internet equity.
"The pandemic really showed how important the internet is and to make sure that we can get rid of some of these internet deserts for high-speed access in our city would be great," she said.
Candidate Joe Leonard said tackling the homelessness situation starts by hiring a city-wide health and human services chief.
"One of the major things that I think we can do to better acknowledge that problem is by treating it seriously, talking to federal and state resources to get Bangor the help that it needs," said Leonard.
He said the University of Maine in Orono could also help with the city-wide problem with the 3D technology they have to help build tiny housing units.
"The engineering department at the University of Maine is going to have a 3D printing department that is funded to actually use affordable housing 3D printing technology. I think that's a resource that we can absolutely use to help with the housing crisis and the homelessness crisis," said Leonard.
Leonard said one of his key issues is to help advance technological infrastructure.
"Maine ranks one of the last states in the country in communications," he expressed.
Leonard shares he served in the U.S. Army for seven years, a place where he said he learned leadership skills, technology, and logistics.
Candidate Marlena Brochu also sees homelessness as a big problem, she found heroin needs near her house yard and found it troubling with a toddler at home.
"I believe one of the most important things to include in the Comprehensive Plan is an economic development plan...bringing in more businesses is key, not only to grow our population and provide net new jobs but it will grow our revenue with commercial taxes," she said.
She shares that in order to make Bangor a more prosperous place, the homelessness and transient problem need to be tackled, taxpayer dollars need to be spent more responsibly, and the city needs to retain and grow the population it has.
"Bringing in more businesses to Bangor and retaining our citizens and bringing in more citizens and also retaining our students by having businesses provide internships and other incentives for them to stay," said Brochu.
Affordable housing and substance use are two key issues Brochu hopes to also address if elected.
"As a service center, we attract the homeless from all over the state and beyond, with 70% of them being from out of state. We can’t tackle this alone, our resources are stretched thin," said Brochu.
Free Martin said he has seen Bangor's homeless problem first hand. He runs the Ramada Inn in Bangor, a hotel that has served as a homeless shelter during the COVID pandemic.
"We need to address every ply for every bit of federal funding that we can get, every bit of state funding that we can get, I think that there are a lot of buildings and assets in Bangor that the city of Bangor can repossess and turn into affordable housing," Martin said.
Affordable housing and economic development are the biggest challenges he thinks the city of Bangor is facing.
"These are national issues that have not left Bangor out, Bangor is included in the shortage in the labor market, the shortage of economic development, as well as the shortage of affordable housing," Martin said. "I believe we can get it done if we all apply some common sense solutions to some complex issues."
If elected Martin said he will work for the 31,000 residents of Bangor, and help address their biggest concerns to make the city a bigger and better place to live, work, and learn.
City councilor Susan Hawes is another incumbent in the race.
"I have proven leadership abilities. I've been council chair twice, have had the ability to bring together a focus group that saw the cross center come to fruition. I just believe in the development in Bangor and have the skills to make it happen," Hawes said.
The homeless issue is among her work agenda items.
"I think we need to come to the table with all of those that are involved, the county, get the commissioners involved, get other people to the table to get frank discussions and really roll up our sleeves and get to work, I mean other states and cities have done it, it doesn't mean it'll go away but it will make it easier for everybody," Hawes said.
She said it's also opioid use, mental health, and the fact that a lot of people are homeless.
"I believe we have to work in collaboration with the state, the other surrounding communities, and the federal should be involved as well."
Hawes said she will like to also have a much more welcoming atmosphere for businesses and new families coming to the city.
James Butler's campaign centers on addressing the homelessness problem.
"First we need to identify where these people are coming from. If they are coming from outside of Bangor, we need to find a solution to maybe have other communities participate in helping these people," Butler said.
Butler feels the government must take a much closer look at where the homeless people are coming from.
"The majority of them are not from Bangor. They are coming in from other communities in the region and beyond," he said.
Butler said Bangor should not be a destination for those seeking benefits.
"We must seek a solution for the crime, addiction, and drugs affecting our Bangor community," Butler said. "Affordable housing should be available for our Bangor families who need assistance."
If elected, Butler said taking care of Bangorains first is a priority and will focus on the problems and concerns the Bangor community members have.