Maine homeless numbers growing, but not as fast as previously reported

Josh O'Brien, director of Portland's Oxford Street Shelter, straightens mats on the third floor on his daily walk-through on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012.
Josh O'Brien, director of Portland's Oxford Street Shelter, straightens mats on the third floor on his daily walk-through on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 28, 2014, at 1:38 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 28, 2014, at 5:27 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s homeless population is growing, but not as dramatically as the federal government recently reported, officials from the state of Maine and city of Portland announced Monday.

The clarification came as service providers around the state prepare for their annual point-in-time survey, in which volunteers and shelters count how many individuals are living without permanent homes in various Maine municipalities.

In late November, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued its yearly Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. That oft-cited study reported that Maine saw a 26 percent increase in homelessness from 2012 to 2013, from 2,393 people to 3,016 people.

But on Monday, the Maine State Housing Authority and the city of Portland, where the largest number of homeless individuals can be found, issued a joint release stating that the federal department included people who had moved into transitional or “independence-modeled” housing in addition to those living on the streets or in shelters.

Boosting the federal numbers further, HUD also included in its transitional housing data 250 specialized units newly funded by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in 2013 for people with “documented severe and persistent mental illnesses.” Those new Bridging Rental Assistance Program — or BRAP — units are not counted by the state as transitional housing, which is traditionally defined as being for homeless people who are most capable of living on their own.

Cutting the inflated transitional and independence-modeled housing from the equation, and looking just at the number of people who were living on the streets or in shelters, the increase was 11 percent from 2012 to 2013, the authority and city announced.

In the city of Portland, 32 percent more people were in transitional or independence-modeled housing programs in 2013 than in the previous year, the authority and city announced.

During the annual point-in-time survey, which will take place throughout Maine on Wednesday, volunteers go to places in many of the state’s service-center communities where homeless individuals are known to be living, take headcounts, ask about their lives and educate them about local shelters and other programs available to them.

Homeless shelters add their overnight data to the totals collected by the volunteer groups.

From 2012 to 2013, shelters across Maine reported a 5 percent increase in the number of people seeking space, as well as an 11 percent jump in the total number of nights people stayed, according to the city and authority announcement.

Maine State Housing Authority spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said Tuesday that a localized breakdown of 2013 homelessness data in Maine communities other than Portland was not yet complete.

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