A bill, LD 1717 “An Act To Support Homeless Shelters,” sponsored by Sen. Margaret Craven of Androscoggin and co-sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Briggs of Mexico, addresses the issues surrounding funding for homeless shelters in Maine.
Part 1 of the bill proposes that the funding for the Homeless Youth Program stay within the region for which it was intended and not be relocated to another geographical region.
Part 2 of the bill would approve $750,000, provided to a general fund for the Maine State Housing, to be used for the purpose of homeless shelters.
Testimony presented on Jan. 28 by Sen. Craven in support of Part 1 of the bill fell short of having consistency for Part 2. She testified that asking for additional funding for this purpose is warranted, yet the timing is not appropriate.
I would ask Sen. Craven: When would be an appropriate time?
Rep. Briggs testified during a public hearing that Maine’s homelessness increased by 26 percent last year. Researchers note that of the 925 homeless youths, 40 percent have substance abuse issues; 25 percent have mental health issues; and 44 percent have medical issues that have not been attended to.
Teens who are homeless are three times more likely to fall victim to physical abuse, assault and various other crimes.
Many of those homeless teens are not “throwaway” children, but are survivors of domestic violence or sexual abuse. Are we, as a community, victimizing homeless teens by not providing basic needs to those who need it most?
I understand and, as a taxpayer, feel the crunch of the state’s poor economy. However, I see the benefits to providing and being proactive in providing a safe environment for teens to grow and thrive.
Teens who live in a shelter are 66 percent more likely to attend and stay in school. What that means is simple: higher graduation rates, increases in income and the opportunity to continue an education. Without that opportunity, a teen who is homeless runs the risk of making 40 percent less than their peers who remain in a home.
Pay it now or pay it later.
The later may be too late. Ignoring the issue does not mean it will go away. In fact, being homeless will only perpetuate the current crisis in federal and state funding by creating a vicious cycle. Homelessness is not a title. It is not a reward for being “free.” It, in fact, is a repercussion to life’s events.
I recently had the pleasure to meet an amazing teen who was in foster care. I will refer to him as Jacob.
Jacob was on his way to a homeless shelter in Portland. His Department of Health and Human Services worker did not have any foster homes available for placement and was left with only one option.
Jacob told his story as he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. His parents were killed in a car accident. His only option was to move into his older sister’s home, out of state.
He explained that he returned to Maine because his sister abused drugs and the home was not appropriate. He said that when he returned to Maine, he broke into cars and sold drugs for money. The money was used to buy food, “to survive.” He slept on the street and sometimes did couch-surfing but did not have a stable home until his involvement with the law and DHHS.
Though the circumstances for leaving home may vary, the common theme of survival is similar for homeless teens. An education does not take precedence to eating; employment is not an option if underage; and crime may be out of necessity to live day-to-day.
As a community, do we care?
I believe we do care. I believe we care and want to help other human beings who have survived amazing circumstances. I believe that we will move forward and take a proactive position in passing LD 1717 to support homeless shelters in Maine. I believe we can make a difference in a child or family’s life and that they will eventually pay it forward.
Let us, as a united state, stay true to the state motto: “I direct, I lead.”
Pamela Simpkins is a licensed social worker and is currently enrolled at the University of Maine in the master of social work program. She lives in Lincolnville.