As a prolonged, bitter cold front descends across the state, homeless shelters in Portland and Bangor are making an extra effort to get people off the streets so they don’t freeze to death.
City officials and shelter staff in the two cities are trying different ways to keep people indoors, now that there’s greater risk that people will die of exposure. In Bangor, shelters have hauled out extra beds, and Portland shelters have beefed up staffing levels.
Police in Bangor said they are ready to shuttle people from the streets to city shelters — or just a friend’s house — if it means getting people out of the cold.
“The general gist is, when the weather turns cold, or dangerous, we work even more closely with our local shelters,” said Bangor police Sgt. Wade Betters.
In Bangor, the city’s two primary first-come, first-served shelters are nearly always full, but both are adding extra beds this week to accommodate as many people as they can.
The Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, a dry shelter at 263 Main St., has added five overflow cots to the 38 beds it keeps available year-round, Director Boyd Kronholm said. People can warm up at the shelter from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a free lunch is served daily.
The Hope House, on Corporate Drive, will make a dozen emergency mats available on top of its 54 regular beds, and hand out “emergency kits” full of mittens, snacks, and hand warmers, Director Anne Giggey said. If all beds are taken, people are welcome to warm up in the shelter’s lobby.
Those in need of a place to stay should check-in between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., which also allows them to keep their bed if they return the next day, she said.
The Hope House also runs a medical clinic that treats cases of hypothermia, frostbite, chapped skin, and dehydration for free.
Those who are still sleeping outside in winter have often been barred from shelters, usually for repeatedly endangering other guests. If they have nowhere to go, Bangor officers have allowed people to warm up in the police station lobby.
“We would not turn them away,” Betters said.
In Portland, Preble Street Resource Center will have additional case workers on duty, and shelter teams are reaching out to people sleeping outside, Program Officer Donna Yellen said. The center’s soup kitchen will also prioritize serving warm meals.
As usual, the teen shelter and Florence House, the women’s shelter on Valley Street, will also be open, she said.
Portland’s Director of Social Services David MacLean said the city is doing outreach to help people living on the street find somewhere to stay indoors — work that is done year round, but can be especially important in the cold weather, he said.
The city-run Oxford Street started operating around the clock on Dec. 11, and accommodates an average of 93 people day, MacLean said.
BDN writer Jake Bleiberg contributed to this report.
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