LEWISTON — Despite a winter storm that buried the city in snow Tuesday, an annual hunt for the homeless in the city and across Maine got underway after sunset Wednesday.

Gerry DeWitt, a volunteer and social worker with the Veterans Outreach Program, said the survey goes on regardless of the weather, as part of an effort by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The survey also affects how much federal funding a state can receive for certain homeless programs, DeWitt said.

On Wednesday afternoon, DeWitt was reaching out to community members and planning with other volunteers for the search, which starts after dark, as per a requirement of the federal agency.

DeWitt said earlier this week that the snowstorm could hinder the effort and may result in a count that is inaccurate. He also said Wednesday that some of the volunteers, who are stretched out across the state, were canceling because of the weather.

He said volunteers in some areas were planning to use snowmobiles to look for homeless people.

“I don’t think we are going to get as many as we wanted for volunteers but we are going to do what we can,” DeWitt said.  


DeWitt said even though the count is sometimes viewed as “all-encompassing,” it really isn’t a fully accurate depiction of the state’s homeless situation.

He said the survey, which is a point-in-time snapshot, is still important and useful because it helps people find shelter and adds to the data the state has, which is generally based only on homeless shelter attendance.

DeWitt also noted that not every homeless shelter shares the details on their clients in an attempt to protect confidentiality.

As volunteers find homeless people they will share information with them about shelter locations and other services. DeWitt said the effort was a partnership with the Maine Military Association and military veteran volunteers.

On Wednesday night, Hews and about 10 other shelter officials will comb areas around the city in search of people sleeping or staying outside.

The effort is part of MaineHousing’s annual Point In Time Survey, a statewide effort to find people sleeping outside in late January, interview them to find out how long and why they’re homeless, and offer them help.


In Bangor, Bruce Hews, supervisor of Hope House, a shelter run by Penobscot Community Health Care, said about 10 volunteers would search that city.

Hews said only one or two people have been found in recent years, but “the way things are looking this year, there might be more than usual.”

The storm may have driven some people who might otherwise sleep outside even in the winter months to find shelter with friends or family, he said.

“All of us are doing what we can to make sure there’s no one stuck outside on a day like this,” Hews said.

DeWitt said the snow was certainly a complicating factor for the homeless and the volunteers looking for them.

“If you are homeless, it ain’t helping,” DeWitt said.

Nick McCrea of the Bangor Daily News contributed to this report.


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