Bangor’s Homelessness Crisis – Part 2: New Programs, New Challenges

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) – It has been 10 months since the city of Bangor received $20 million in US federal Rescue Plan Act funds as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many people we spoke to wonder how – or if – the City can use some of this money to address the current homelessness crisis.

Tom Krosnowski learned more about a new policing program and other measures the City is considering as the challenges increase.

“BCAT is going to help those people trying to connect to services,” said Sgt. Jason McAmbley of the Bangor Police Department said. “Unless they commit, they will always be homeless.”

BCAT is Bangor’s Community Action Team. The city will hire four social workers to respond to welfare checks instead of the police, which McAmbley says could take up to 2,000 calls that often don’t require the police to be off the table for a numerically disadvantaged staff. It will be another community resource, but one that he says needs to be used properly.

“There are groups that literally come out every week to reach homeless encampments and offer mental health counseling, addiction counseling, medical services, employment, training, etc.,” McAmbley said. . “There are resources for that, and less than 30% of those people use them for any of those things.”

It’s a program approved by city council this year, and city council president Rick Fournier says it won’t be the last. He plans to meet with Penobscot County officials to decide how they can use combined federal funding of $50 million. Allocations, he says, could arrive within three months. This is something Bangor Police will be watching closely.

“Where are they going to spend this money?” McAmbley said. “Who are they going to find to help them fix it?” Because the police department is not going to solve the homeless problem. We simply are not. We will fight crime. We are not the homeless police.

Fournier says Bangor — and all of Maine — could take a damaging hit by next week.

“Emergency rental assistance, this money will disappear as of November 1,” Fournier said. “In the city of Bangor, 950 homes will be affected. In other words, they won’t be able to pay their rent.

“For me, it’s a crisis situation.”

He says that decision is up to the state, like any decision to use the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center to help the city’s homelessness crisis. Fournier said he has reached out to these issues. In the meantime, he expects the coming winter to force some changes.

“During the winter months, those (homeless) numbers have dropped to 30 or 40 (people). It’s not a real solution, but it forces people to make decisions.

“We’re all trying to make it work as best we can. We know this is a problem and we are working on it.