By Zendelle Bouchard
The City’s Homelessness Task Force has been activated to find solutions for Sanford’s growing resident unhoused population. City Manager Steve Buck told the City Council this week that the Task Force had a productive meeting July 31, 2023, and will meet biweekly going forward.
Resident homeless people are defined as those Sanford residents who have recently become unhoused, or who have been unhoused for an extended period of time. The Sanford Police Department’s Mental Health Unit (MHU) attempts to make contact with all unhoused individuals in the community, and keeps a database which details the reason(s) for the person becoming homeless. The database currently includes 108 individuals. Resident homeless are divided into four categories:
- Those who are homeless purely for financial reasons, due to eviction or insufficient income. This is a relatively short list. With housing assistance or gap funds, these folks can become housed.
- People needing support or case management up front to become successfully housed. They may be homeless for a variety of reasons.
- Those who are homeless due to severe substance use disorder (SUD) and/or mental illness. Treatment and short-term case management are needed for this group.
- Those who are homeless due to a mental illness and/or SUD which have become so dominant they require long-term case management even after housing is located.
For people in groups one and two, York County Community Action Corp. will assign housing navigators and Sanford Housing Authority will review for possible vouchers. These two categories of unhoused can be resolved more easily than categories three and four. Resolving homelessness for those in categories three and four is more difficult, because the number of treatment beds in York County is severely limited.
The number of resident homeless is constantly fluctuating, as people move into housing and come off the list, and others who are newly homeless are identified.
Among the Task Force’s immediate goals is aiding the recently closed Peer Support Center in finding a new space. The uncertainty of their funding is a major obstacle, as landlords want a multi-year lease contract. The Peer Support Center provides counseling, food and basic needs, sanitation and referrals. Buck said a new Peer Support Center will become a resource hub for Sanford’s resident unhoused.
Another goal is the aggressive pursuit of grants or state funds to pay for additional positions within the MHU; to start a paramedicine program within the Sanford Fire Department (most of the funding has already been secured); to fully staff the SFD; and to expand preexisting shelter facilities such as Dennis Hall at York County Shelter Programs (YCSP).
The paramedicine program will help Sanford seniors to stay in their homes, and prevent repeat visits to the emergency room by resident homeless and others with chronic conditions.
The Task Force includes the Mayor, one City Councilor, the City Manager, the Communications Coordinator, the Police Chief and Deputy Chief, all members of the MHU, the SPD’s two Majors, and representatives from the SHA, YCCAC and YCSP. The Task Force will meet next on August 14. Fire Chief Scott Susi has been invited to speak about the paramedicine program and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Steve Bussiere will talk about unhoused students in the Sanford school system.