As a master’s degree student, I was directed to look at one of social work’s grand challenges, research it and explore resolutions. The challenge I chose was ending homelessness.

There are as many reasons these individuals become homeless as there are homeless individuals — low income/high rents, mental illness, substance abuse, inadequate housing are just a few.

In 2009, the United Way submitted a 10-year plan to end homelessness. In that report, the estimates were that approximately 100 individuals were homeless each night, with 44 beds in the two shelters in the Lewiston-Auburn area. In any given year, there are an estimated 1,300 individuals homeless in this small area. Getting a precise count is almost impossible as so many are living in cars, camps, squatting in empty buildings or staying with friends/family.

The report identified five ways to approach the issue — prevention, early intervention, crisis response, transition and permanent affordable housing. For this report, I chose to focus on permanent affordable housing.

In the Lewiston/Auburn area, there are subsidies to help pay for rent. Section 8 will pay rent for those who qualify, with a step-down program that enables the individual to increase thei responsibility gradually. Currently, the waiting list is approximately three years.

Where should applicants stay while waiting for the help to attain affordable housing?


There are two other voucher programs — BRAP and Shelter Plus care. The BRAP voucher can be attained after an individual is “seen” sleeping in a place that is not considered acceptable for habitation. The Shelter Plus voucher is available to those who have stayed in a homeless shelter for a predetermined number of days. It is a short-term assistance.

Also, Lewiston and Auburn each have a general assistance program that is based out of the city offices and will help with some rental assistance or even utility assistance, for those who qualify. However, it is difficult to qualify for the assistance program when there is no way to contact the individual.

Permanent affordable housing, to some, is a dream that is out of reach. Affordable housing is expensive all over the country and, in the Lewiston-Auburn area, it is out of reach for so many.

To attain housing, a person needs to have employment to have the money to pay the rent. How is that possible when it is difficult to attain employment that will pay a wage of more than $18.05 an hour? To pay the suggested “less than 30 percent of income to housing,” that is the base amount needed to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment with a fair market rate of $939 per month. Estimates are that an individual would need to work anywhere from 64 to 81 hours at minimum wage to pay for that apartment.

For a homeless person, the struggle to gain affordable housing doubles as there is a need to eat, get to the job, find a safe place to sleep, all while attempting to save for the security deposit, as well as the first and sometimes last month’s rent.

Fortunately, there is another program that many states have implemented with positive results. That program is called Housing First. It is enabling homeless individuals to attain safe, secure housing before requiring them to attain other needed services. Mental health clients are given a roof over their heads, a safe place to sleep, and then are directed to available services to address the other issues that previously made them unable to maintain housing. Substance users and chronically homeless all receive the same opportunities. According to a report by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency, the Housing First program is working; individuals are healing, getting their needs met and improving their lives.

Why isn’t Maine involved in the Housing First program? How can we, as caring individuals, bring the program to Maine to enable those who need us most to have the most basic of needs met?

Kimberly Lee lives in Norway.

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