BANGOR, Maine — Nearly 770 people took to the streets Saturday to help raise funds for the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, which given the state of the economy and cuts in state and federal aid could use the support.
The 769 who took part in the 18th annual Hike for the Homeless raised a total of $27,000 for the shelter at the corner of Main and Cedar streets.
The hike is one of the primary fundraisers for the shelter, which receives only 20 percent of its $500,000 budget from state and federal resources and depends on fundraising for the rest. The total raised this year was well below the shelter’s goal of $40,000 for the event.
Despite that, Director Dennis Marble was pleased with turnout — particularly given a weather forecast that called for a wintry mix of sleet and snow.
“It’s a testament to the community that anybody came out today — and to have 769 hike is just unbelievable,” he said.
“Last night there were over 100 people staying in the shelters that are in Bangor,” he said during a brief address after the hikers arrived at their endpoint at Bangor Waterfront.
“And one of the things about homelessness that I’ve come to realize from talking with people that needed the services is that when you’re homeless, if you’re going to stay in a shelter at night, you do not feel a part of the community,” he said.
Marble said that showing their support for the shelter, the hikers did more than raise badly needed funding: “You’ve made a statement to people experiencing homelessness that they are, in fact, cared about by the community around them and for that I thank all of you sincerely.”
Hike coordinator Laura Cushing agreed.
“I think it went well. I think there’s always a challenge at this time of year with weather. Last year, it was blustery. This year, it was a little drizzly,” she said. “It goes back to the philosophy [that] if you’re homeless and you’re living on the street, these are the condition you face on a daily basis.”
Among those who turned out were student groups from public schools in Bangor and surrounding communities, the Penobscot Job Corps, St. Paul the Apostle Parish, St. Joseph Hospital and several businesses.
A steel drum band from Hermon High School was at the Bangor Waterfront to lend a tropical feel to an otherwise chilly day.
David Slagger of Kenduskeag, a former Maliseet Indian state representative now gearing up to run for governor next year as a Green Party candidate, also hiked for the homeless.
“There are a lot of young people here,” Slagger said. “It’s nice to see.”
Despite the shelter beds available in the city, some who are homeless in Bangor continue to spend many of their nights outside, in makeshift campsites.
The evidence often can be found on the waterfront, in the Maine Department of Transportation rights-of-way near Hammond Street and in The Pines, a wooded area behind the Hope House, a homeless shelter and health care center on Indiana Avenue and service center for people with drug and alcohol addictions.
As recently as Friday, city police were called to the area near the large red-and-white checkered water tank off Maine Avenue, according to a public works employee.
That’s a concern to people who work with homeless populations.
“The Pines area is an area that is known by people in the community that try to help the homeless,” Cushing noted, adding that homeless people also set up campsites under bridges and in other secluded spots. “It’s too bad. People shouldn’t have to live like that.”
Three years ago this month, a 48-year-old homeless woman died in The Pines from the effects of hypothermia and alcoholism.
Last April, a homeless man suffered serious burns to his lower body Friday morning as the result of a flash fire caused by a propane stove he was using inside his tent in Cascade Park.
Earlier this month, a homeless man in Portland died from smoke inhalation after a candle ignited a fire in the tent he was living in.