BANGOR, Maine (WABI) – The City of Bangor is making plans to clean up some of the homeless encampments located on city property.
Many Bangor residents and business owners have spoken out in recent weeks expressing their frustration with the city regarding the growing homeless problem.
As winter approaches, the question many want answered – where are these individuals going to go?
“In the summertime here, this is just the easiest solution for some folks,” said Sergeant Jason McAmbley of the Bangor Police Department. “There’s some people that are trying.”
The City of Bangor is making plans to clean up two major homeless encampments, one off Valley Avenue along Kenduskeag Park and another called “Tent City” over by the Hope House.
McAmbley of the Bangor Police Department estimates that encampment off Cleveland Street has grown 200% since the beginning of summer.
“There’s double the amount of people in Tent City than there were under the I-395 bridge last year, easily,” he said.
As winter approaches, the number of unsheltered people seems to be growing day by day.
“We’ve got people from Texas, Florida, Nevada, California. You’re aware we’ve got winter and it’s coming, and it’s coming hard. They came to Maine,” said McAmbley. “There’s certainly more campers out here than there was the last time. There are a couple tents gone, but there’s a couple more tents up. A lot of people think this is associated with The Hope House. It is not.”
Like many other police departments across the country, they, too, are dealing with staffing shortages making it challenging for officers who are called to these sites often.
“The police department is called there on a regular basis for thefts, assaults, and there’s drug use. We know it. There are people that are trying to stay clean, so they’re going to try and stay away from drug use because they don’t want to slip back into it, and I get it,” he said.
They’re also being called to several welfare checks, which McAmbley says is not police work.
“It’s very frustrating for the officers on the street. We had just the other day probably the first sixteen calls for the day, this was before 9 a.m., twelve of them were welfare checks,” he explained.
“Next spring, they’re replacing the standpipe for water out by The Hope House, and the new one is going basically in the middle of where that encampment is now, so where are those folks going to go? That’s something that’s going to have to be figured out,” McAmbley explained.
We spoke to one of the campers who has been living in Tent City. She and her husband came to Maine from Massachusetts after losing their apartment. She says they were dropped off in Bangor. They’re now preparing for another winter there but are finding it challenging to get along with others staying there.
“It used to be good, a lot of coexisting. Not so much anymore,” she said. “I’ve been here a year, and all I have is like a backpack because they took my tent while I was in the hospital. It was not like that before.”
“We’ve got so many resources, and we’ve got too many people to try and help. We’re not going to serve all of them. There’s just no way,” said McAmbley.
Boyd Kronholm, Executive Director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter says this is the biggest population he has seen in his six years in the role.
They are preparing to open their warming center on December 21st.
“We’re going to go back to our pre-COVID level,” he said. “We should be able to have 38 people in our warming center, 36-38 people in our warming center, in addition to the people who are in our 38 beds, plus our five mats on the floor upstairs in the TV room.”
Kronholm adds there are a lot of ideas being discussed on how to address the issue, but he believes the national program, Built for Zero, is a good start.
“It’s a best practice. It’s evidence based. It involves coordinated entry. It involves everyone working together to figure out where each individual needs to go, and you prioritize who is the most vulnerable, and they’re the ones who get the most services and the services first. If you can house, then you can cut down on ER visits and save the hospital money. You can cut down on calls to PD, the fire department, and paramedics. Once you get them housed, it frees up a lot more resources,” he explained. “We’re just hoping that as many people that we had influx over the summer, that dwindles when they find places to go for the winter. If not, we’re not sure.”
With the cold weather quickly approaching, the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter is preparing to meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness.
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