Bangor officials plan to clear out the homeless encampment on the city’s waterfront by the end of this week after receiving many complaints about the tents, syringes, shopping carts and waste that have been accumulating there in recent months.
A team that includes police officers, a mental health case manager and a public health nurse will be going around the waterfront park on Thursday, helping the people who have been sleeping there to relocate and giving them 24 hours to leave, according to Bangor Police Chief Mark Hathaway.
Hathaway, who announced the plans during a city council meeting on Wednesday night, said that the team will try to steer the people into the local homeless shelters that have available beds or to other places where they may be able to stay. The city does pay for some people to relocate out-of-state if they can provide evidence that they have somewhere safe to go.
“There will be some resistance, we appreciate that,” Hathaway said at the council meeting on Wednesday night, after describing the plan to clear the waterfront. “But I think we can help with the transportation and relocating folks and finding better solutions than where they are currently.”
While there are other homeless camps around the city, Hathaway said the city is starting with the waterfront because it has been the subject of the most complaints.
The city plans to clear out other sites in the future, but Hathaway said there is only so much space in the local homeless shelters right now. The shelters currently have approximately 20 to 25 open beds, according to Rindy Fogler, Bangor’s community services manager.
“Our shelters are filling up quickly,” Hathaway said. “It’s a very difficult situation for us. We simply don’t have the available resources to address the overwhelming problem, but we’re going to do our best with it.”
The city has seen a surge of homeless people sleeping outdoors in recent months as the COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder for them to find a roof and a bed. Local officials also think that the state-funded initiative to repurpose the Ramada Inn as a temporary shelter — including for some coronavirus-infected people who must quarantine — has drawn a larger-than-normal homeless population to Bangor over the summer and fall.
A few weeks ago, local officials counted roughly 140 unsheltered people living around the city, Fogler said. Around the same time last year, the number was 25 to 30.
From left: The scene at the Bangor waterfront has changed as the homeless population has been setting up tents in the area. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
“It has been a tremendous uptick in the number of unsheltered individuals,” Fogler said on Wednesday.
Now, numerous encampments have formed at locations including the Penobscot River waterfront, the Kenduskeag Stream and behind the Walmart on Stillwater Avenue. In downtown Bangor, business owners and stakeholders have also reported an apparent uptick of people sleeping in and around Pickering Square, using drugs and leaving human waste in spots frequented by shoppers and pedestrians.
In recent weeks, Bangor officials have been approaching their counterparts in neighboring communities and in the Penobscot County government to see if they would contribute to addressing the challenges associated with the city’s homeless population, which includes a significant number from other states and municipalities. Many of those people also struggle with substance use and mental health disorders.
In 2019, the city hired a homeless outreach caseworker who has since connected 37 people with permanent housing. However, one of the challenges this year is that there have been very few apartments available to people trying to get off the streets, according to Fogler. There are also a number of unsheltered homeless people who prefer sleeping outside to staying in shelters.