As the temperature falls, the concern is growing for the homeless population in Portland, Maine.
Mark Swann, Director of the Preble Street shelter, worries the number of people sleeping outside in the cold is growing. In October, Preble Street staff counted 88 people sleeping in camps or on the streets in Portland. Swann said that number is double what they counted last year.
“That’s more people sleeping outside than we’ve ever seen, in many, many, many years,” said Swann.
It’s difficult to get an accurate count, but Swann worries many of them will stay outside in the cold winter months. He said some people refuse, or are reluctant to come to the shelter due to mental health issues, drug addiction, or even pride.
“There can be paranoia about coming in and putting your name down on a sheet of paper,” said Swann. “It’s complicated stuff.”
But he wants to encourage everyone to come out from the cold, even if the shelters are full. He said they will work to find everyone a place to stay who needs it.
“The kind of weather we are experiencing right now – people can die,” said Swann. “We are redoubling our efforts in terms of street outreach.”
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Roger Goodoak sees the problem firsthand. He is the founder of the Maine Homeless Veterans Alliance, a nonprofit that collects donated items and delivers them to the homeless wherever they are.
“You’ve got to walk a quarter of a mile into the woods to sometimes to find these people,” said Goodoak.
As a veteran who was once homeless himself, Goodoak said he always encourages the homeless to stay at the shelter – but he said sometimes they refuse.
“I cry,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do.”
Swann said the trend is troubling, but he hopes it will call attention to the need to address homelessness at the local, state, and federal level.
“It’s not okay to have a city the size of Portland, Maine that has between four and five hundred people every single night sleeping on the floors of these crowded shelters, or sleeping outside,” he said.
Both Preble Street and the Maine Homeless Veterans Alliance accept donated goods, such as gloves, hats, coats, socks, and toiletries.