December 07, 2019
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Clearing of homeless camp resulted in more camps, not permanent housing

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
David Williams, 53, in the tent where he lives with his wife Maria in Bangor. Williams, a U.S. Army veteran, was among the homeless people who had to move their camp when the city cleared an area of bushes along the Penobscot River.

The clearing of one of Bangor’s largest homeless encampments last month drove dozens of people to form smaller camps around the city — and virtually none of them into shelters and permanent housing, according to police and shelter workers.

On July 24, city crews cut down the thick growth along the bank of the Penobscot River between lower Dutton Street and the Interstate 395 bridge, prompting the 40 or so people who had been living in the sprawling network of campsites to move elsewhere.

The homeless have camped along that portion of the waterfront for decades, but this summer as the camp grew and personalities clashed, a series of violent assaults erupted, police and city officials said. City officials said they finally had enough of the frequent criminal activity and decided to clear the land in an effort to stop the encampment from being rebuilt.

But as most predicted, directors at both city shelters said that few people have showed up to claim beds. Before the area was razed, police and social workers made regular visits to advise residents of the city’s resources for them. Even so, only four people sought general assistance funds from the city to pay for rental housing, said Rindy Folger of Bangor Health and Community Services.

“Some have stayed with friends, others moved to other places to camp, some just moved further down the river and set up camp again,” said James Vaughn of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter. “The situations have changed for a few, but the majority of the campers are in the same situation, just somewhere else in the city.”

The clearing has also given rise to a string of new camps, Bangor Police Sgt. Wade Betters said. Several people moved onto private property or public ways, meaning police have responded to calls from property owners about removing the tents, he said.

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Several homeless people had to move their camps when the City of Bangor cleared this area of bushes along the Penobscot River.

Eventually, homeless populations are likely to retreat into the deep woods where they are less visible, but where “it’s hard for people to get help if they need it,” Betters said.

In many cases, those people have preferred living outside, where they don’t have to follow shelter restrictions, said Ann Giggey, director of the Hope House Shelter. Most are suffering from severe mental illness or have substance uses issues, and they need more than just a shelter bed to help them successfully break out of homelessness, she said.

Shelter outreach teams have worked to slowly build up trust in these hard-to-reach people, hoping they may finally take up an offer to connect with a caseworker, Giggey said.

Until then, police said they will continue to shuttle them away from private property, but hopefully not too far from view that outbreaks of violence go unobserved or unreported, Betters said.

Being near city resources was key for Adrian McCoomb, the 41-year-old homeless man who was stabbed repeatedly during a fight he said he instigated July 20, days before the waterfront camp was dismantled.

Two days before he was stabbed near his tent on the bank of the Penobscot River, McCoomb told the BDN that he feared alcoholism would end his life before he could get into a detox center. Instead, he nearly died from blood loss after a stab wound severed an artery in his left forearm, he said.

The fight took place about 150 yards from Main Street, where he was easy to find after a friend called 911. An ambulance arrived in time to save his life.

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