Housing project to aid homeless people

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff
Posted June 10, 2009, at 7:16 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Just one year ago, the building at 53 Charles St., was abandoned, run down and nearing condemnation.

On Wednesday, a $588,000 transformation was unveiled.

But instead of turning the old apartment building into something new and beautiful to make a profit, the development collaborators will offer the four new units to people who have been identified as chronically homeless.

“There’s a woman I’ve known since 1998 who I thought would be perfect for this type housing,” said Dennis Marble, director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter. “I told her to come by last week when things were finishing up. She came back after looking at it and started to tear up. She said, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’”

Then Marble started to choke up himself.

“This is powerful stuff,” he said. “But people have a right to live dignified lives.”

The development is a collaboration between the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, Community Housing of Maine, Community Health and Counseling Services and The Acadia Hospital. MaineHousing provided financing for the project, which took about one year to complete. R&K Construction did the work.

Cullen Ryan, executive director of Community Housing of Maine, said Wednesday’s event was a small step toward tackling a growing need in Bangor and throughout the state.

“There are people who are homeless who will never be able to get out of that cycle,” he said. “By providing them a place to live, that’s one thing they don’t have to worry about. That can get them started on bettering their lives.”

The building on Charles Street, which runs between Union Street and Ohio Street near downtown Bangor, is geared toward people who have serious mental or physical disabilities that have contributed to their chronic homelessness. Each apartment has one bedroom, one bathroom and an open kitchen, dining and living area.

The selection process for the apartments is not finished, Marble said, but the four people selected should be able to move in later this month. Ryan stressed that just giving these people a place to live isn’t enough. That’s where agencies such as Community Health and Counseling Services and The Acadia Hospital come in.

“Those support services are critical,” he said. “Without them, we’re just putting a Band-Aid on the problem.”

Dan Brennan, director of development for MaineHousing, said the need for permanent housing for the homeless is great. Nearly 1,000 people across the state have been identified as chronically homeless.

“What we want people to understand that it costs dramatically less to do this than to keep these people homeless, bouncing from shelters to emergency rooms and sometimes to jails,” he said.

A recent study commissioned by MaineHousing to look at the cost of rural homelessness concluded that permanent housing is a much more cost-effective way of addressing homelessness.

“But there is still a stigma around that,” Marble said. “I’m proud of what the shelter does, but I’d much rather send people somewhere else.”

Brenda Perry, who coordinated the project for Community Housing of Maine, said the apartment building on Charles Street is a great example of collaboration among state and local agencies.

Mary Ellen Quinn of Community Health and Counseling Services agreed, but said more can be done.

“I would like to see more collaborations like this,” she said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/06/10/news/bangor/housing-project-to-aid-homeless-people/ printed on August 28, 2014