Housing the homeless is harder than ever in Portland’s booming rental market

Obtaining housing for homeless residents in Portland has never been more difficult to find housing in a rental market that has become more expensive by the day.

“We’re seeing one-bedroom apartments for $1,200, $1,300, $1,400,” said Erin Kelly, director of the Rapid Re-Housing program at Preble Street, a homeless-serving organization in Portland. “It’s just incredibly difficult for someone who could make $12, $13, $14 an hour.”

Kelly leads a Preble Street effort to mobilize all available resources to get people off the streets of Portland quickly. The Portland-based Preble Street Rapid Re-Housing Services program has served more than 100 people since October 2020, placing 75 people in stable housing during this time by partnering with local landlords.

Many homeless residents want to stay in Portland, but it’s been especially difficult over the past seven or eight months, Kelly said. Many residents served by the organization cannot even afford apartments with housing vouchers.

“There’s little to no affordable housing,” Kelly said.

Housing prices are rising all over Maine, but Kelly said Preble Street has softened some of the blow by relocating people to neighboring communities like Biddeford and Saco or Lewiston if they have ties there like family or friends. friends.

Social workers are currently working with homeless residents at the Comfort Inn in South Portland, where residents’ status is uncertain. FEMA funding for their stay is due to expire at the end of the month. The program works primarily with individuals, but has also established couples and families.

Although the first step is to get them into stable housing as quickly as possible, social workers help connect their clients to health care, substance use disorder treatment services, and support in mental health, usually working with people for six months to a year. They also pay the client’s security deposits as well as basic supplies for an apartment.

George, a male client of the program, had been homeless for two years before being helped into an apartment. He was surprised by how quickly the process went, saying he was particularly happy to no longer have to carry his things everywhere he went.

The program came after the federal government began using federal COVID-19 relief funds to inject funds into helping homeless people across the country. The funds first went to MaineHousing, which granted them to Preble Street.

The pandemic has severely affected Maine’s economy. the the unemployment rate has tripled at first, many found themselves made redundant and some even found themselves homeless.

But there was less shelter space to house the state’s homeless population. COVID-19 could spread easily and quickly in group living situations, so shelters were forced to accommodate fewer people to avoid the force of the virus.

Service providers like Preble Street have sought to stem the tide. They don’t always have the resources to do it. Kelly noted that they are always looking for more partnerships with local landlords to help address the city’s growing homelessness problem.

“The homeless service providers had to do their best with what we had,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot more demand than we have to respond to people.”

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Sandy A. Greer