A Bangor hotel that has exclusively housed homeless residents since last fall will continue to serve as a shelter past its original Sept. 30 end date.
It is unclear how long the Ramada Inn on Odlin Road will remain a shelter, but the federal government’s extension of funding for emergency shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic means the property won’t yet return to serving as a hotel, said Denise Lord, senior director of strategic initiatives for the Maine State Housing Authority, or MaineHousing.
MaineHousing leases the hotel, then contracts with Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor to run the Ramada as an extension of its Hope House shelter.
The hotel has been used exclusively as a homeless shelter since last fall, and it’s included dedicated space for people with COVID-19 to isolate and avoid exposing others to the disease. Before last September, 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. Since the start of the pandemic, the city’s existing homeless shelters have been able to accommodate fewer people because of social distancing requirements.
Hope House Director Josh D’Alessio said earlier this summer that shelter staff have noticed lower levels of anxiety and depression in those staying in the Ramada, as they’ve had their own space for sleeping and relaxing. The setup has also allowed shelter staff to connect with people in need of services whom they had struggled to engage for years, he said.
However, city officials and nearby property owners have voiced concerns about the Ramada continuing as a shelter.
Then-Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow said in July that the primary problem with the Ramada shelter is that hotels don’t lend themselves to the level of monitoring needed for a population that often has mental health needs and substance use disorder.
While MaineHousing provides the funding to use the Ramada as a shelter, the federal government has reimbursed the agency through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Ramada in Bangor is among several properties across the country with similar arrangements in place. The Ramada Inn in Lewiston has also been used as a shelter.
The funds from FEMA were slated to end on Sept. 30. However, President Joe Biden’s administration announced last month that FEMA COVID-19 response funding would be extended until Dec. 31 as part of a larger effort to prevent the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19.
It is still unclear if the Ramada will be used as a shelter up until New Year’s Eve. Discussions among MaineHousing, Bangor officials and local shelter providers are ongoing, Lord said.
Many of the same pandemic-related challenges persist, Lord said. Those include the inability for those housed at the Ramada to safely quarantine and a need for more space to house homeless residents due to reduced capacity at existing shelters.
“Right now, we’re listening to what the community is telling us its needs are and how best to address them,” Lord said.