A Bangor hotel will continue to serve as a homeless shelter for the foreseeable future as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, with its ability to house dozens of people keeping many without homes out of the city’s woods and parks.
The Ramada Inn on Odlin Road has served exclusively as a shelter since September, when Penobscot Community Health Care began running it as an extension of its Hope House shelter under a contract with the Maine State Housing Authority. The property includes a separate wing for people who need to isolate because they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or are suspected of having the disease.
Before that, the Ramada was among a handful of Bangor hotels that used available rooms to house people without homes as the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to much travel. Sixty people who would typically stay at the Hope House are now staying at the Ramada, PCHC spokesperson Kate Carlisle said this week.
The Maine State Housing Authority began leasing the Ramada as a growing number of people without homes were staying on Bangor’s waterfront this fall. A few months later, with the Ramada arrangement in place and the city’s other shelters still running, fewer people are sleeping outside, said Rindy Fogler, who oversees the city’s General Assistance and housing programs.
“It’s pretty safe to infer that they are preventing people from being on the streets,” she said.
Both the Hope House and the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter are still open and accommodating people, but like shelters everywhere, they have had to reduce their capacity so those staying there have space to socially distance from others and avoid spreading the coronavirus.
Bangor isn’t the only place where the Maine State Housing Authority is leasing a hotel so people without homes have a place to stay. A similar arrangement is in place at the Ramada Inn in Lewiston.
People without COVID-19 stay on one floor at the Bangor Ramada while the other floor is dedicated quarantine and isolation space, according to Hope House Director Josh D’Alessio. The entrances to each floor are separate. Penobscot Community Health Care has also provided food and transportation for the people staying at the hotel.
In recent weeks, far fewer people staying at the hotel have tested positive for the coronavirus compared with the summer months, when the shelter served as isolation space for seasonal farm workers who had tested positive. At that time, Carlisle said, the number of people who had tested positive or were awaiting COVID-19 test results was often at or near the COVID-19 floor’s maximum capacity.
Cities including Bangor saw an increased need for housing early in the pandemic, as shelters had to reduce their capacity to allow for social distancing and many low-income workers lost jobs. In Bangor, no overflow shelter location readily came together as city and PCHC officials argued over the best approach. However, D’Alessio said, almost all the hotels in the area were receptive to housing people when he initially approached them.
“We had people staying at maybe seven or nine hotels at the beginning of April, and it just slowly kind of consolidated to this,” D’Alessio said. “This effort right here, spearheaded by Maine State Housing Authority, has saved a lot of people from having to be without a shelter.”
The housing authority is leasing the hotel until the end of the pandemic.
Anyone staying there for more than 14 days is connected to a housing navigator who tries to help them secure long-term housing, D’Alessio said.
However, given the lack of safe and affordable housing in the area, those options are limited. Boyd Kronholm, director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, said that finding permanent housing for shelter guests has been more challenging during the pandemic.
For the winter, Fogler said, having the hotel is an advantage and will keep people out of the cold.
“But we’re certainly going to have to do a lot of legwork to try to find housing for people because the time will come when that money will go away and the Ramada will close as a shelter,” she said.