By Zendelle Bouchard
At the City Council meeting on Dec. 5, 2023, City Manager Steve Buck reported on the upcoming York County Homelessness Forum as well as other issues relating to Sanford’s unhoused population.
York County forum: Buck announced the details for the forum, which will take place at the Sanford Performing Arts Center on Dec. 11. The forum is being organized to present the latest statistics and information concerning homelessness to York County legislators, before they go back to Augusta to vote on spending the state’s projected revenue surplus. He said when attendees enter, there will be a large “data walk” with poster boards for each York County community, detailing homelessness statistics and demographics. Representatives from each community will be there to talk about the data. There will be a series of presentations, including one by the Sanford Police Department’s Mental Health Unit. The presentations will include the stories of some individuals who have experienced homelessness. There will be time for questions and answers with the legislators, and Carter Friend of York County Community Action will present the request for funds to meet immediate, short-term and long-term goals. The forum is by invitation only, but it will be televised for the public on WSSR’s YouTube channel and on Town Hall Streams.
Latest numbers: The MHU last reported there are 152 individuals known to be living outdoors or in vehicles in Sanford/Springvale. That is an increase of eight new people, but nine others are no longer being tracked for various reasons including some who have become housed, two who are incarcerated, two who have moved away and one who has gone to recovery. The MHU has also identified four additional people who are at risk of becoming unhoused. Buck said he spoke to a Portland Press Herald reporter who is planning an article on the City’s work with the unhoused.
Warming Center: The warming center at the former Lafayette School opened on Dec. 1, but Buck said it had only light utilization over the first weekend and it may take time for people to become trustful of the services available there.
Housing First: The Sanford Housing Authority has a bid out on a parcel of land to build 30 units to be funded by the state of Maine. If the bid is accepted, a new contract zone will have to be approved for the property. The Housing First model of addressing homelessness provides housing to people with mental health and substance abuse issues that require intensive case management services.
Food Resource Group: Frannie’s Mini Donuts and several other local food vendors have agreed to participate in this program, in cooperation with service organizations, to offer meals to the unhoused seven days a week. Frannie’s will provide a hot meal and a to-go meal each Sunday. Buck said there is “rampant malnutrition” among the City’s unhoused population.
MBH: The MHU has implemented a memorandum of understanding with Maine Behavioral Health to help get services to homeless residents who need them but is hampered by the lack of availability of beds in mental health facilities, especially beds for those with both mental health and substance use disorder issues.
Future Plans: Buck said the City’s Homeless Task Force will meet again after the York County Forum to debrief and make future plans, focusing on the immediate needs of encampments and how to make the best use of the warming center. The use of City facilities for showering and laundry, and transportation between facilities will also be up for discussion.