FARMINGTON — Nearly 60 community members gathered Monday at Henderson Memorial Baptist Church for an annual Martin Luther King Jr. ecumenical service designed to not only inform but to also encourage participants to act on the injustice of homelessness.

“No one should experience homelessness. No one should be without this basic human right — a safe, stable place to call home,” said guest speaker the Rev. Nancy Fritz, who is also the director of Homeless Initiatives at Maine State Housing Authority.

Referring to the words of King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Fritz gave details about the rural homelessness of Franklin County, and encouraged those attending to take action. She suggested specific ways that people can make a difference.

Fritz said that more than 7,100 people stayed in shelters across the state last year. The number included veterans, young adults and youngsters under the age of 18 who were on their own.

In a county like Franklin that has no shelters, people are doubled up or couch surfing, staying in abandoned buildings or tents, she said. Doubled up means an individual or family lives with family members or friends due to economic hardship, she said.

There are 14,000 people in Maine in a doubled up situation, she said, referring to a report issued last year by The National Alliance to End Homelessness.

The number of people in shelters and those staying with others is known but the numbers with no place to live causing them to stay in unheated campers and abandoned buildings is not known, she said.

“What we do know is that they exist — we know this from the phone calls to community action agencies and United Way offices and faith communities and other service providers,” she said.

The problem is compounded by the invisibility of rural homelessness.

“It is often so hidden that people express surprise that it exists at all,” she said.

An effort adopted three years ago to address homelessness across the state, Maine’s Plan to End and Prevent Homelessness, works on goals of homeless outreach programs and shelters, seeks an adequate supply of housing, ensures that health needs are met and addresses issues affecting homelessness such as budgeting and money management, employment searches and other factors.

While it has many pluses, the plan lacks an action plan, Fritz said as she continued with what each person, organization, faith community can do to help.

“Creating justice requires all of us,” she said.

She suggested getting to know homeless people instead of walking by them or opening a home to someone without a place to stay. She also recommended donating to organizations that make a difference. She encouraged each person to make sure the voices of the people are heard by the new legislative and executive leadership in Augusta.

An offering was taken for the Homeless Coalition Fund as Lisa Park Laflin, executive director of the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area, described how in just over two years, 118 individuals have been helped with housing and food. More than $5,000 was spent, she said. Money is funneled through the Venture Fund, administered by Western Maine Community Action.

Community members and members of organizations are needed to participate in leading the Greater Franklin County Homeless Coalition, she said.

Those who want to contribute may send checks to: Greater Franklin County Homeless Coalition, c/o WMCA, P.O. Box 200, East Wilton, ME 04234, with “homeless” written on the memo line.

[email protected]

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