Homeless counted in Biddeford

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By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – As the numbers of homeless people in Biddeford climb, volunteers surveyed the population to get a clearer picture of local need.

Volunteers converged Jan. 23 to complete Point in Time surveys of all the people who live outside in Biddeford. A Point in Time Survey is a government program that allows data to be collected to help inform the homelessness program funding decisions that are made on federal, state and municipal levels. The surveys come as part of the Point in Time Program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Maine, the surveys are administered by Maine State Housing Authority.

As the economy booms and rents rise, many long time residents are forced out and struggle to find accommodations they can afford. Data incurred from this study will help determine how much help cities like Biddeford qualify for to aid in their homelessness problem.

The homeless were asked to come to Seeds of Hope, a resource center on South Street, Biddeford Food Pantry and Stone Soup Food Pantry to be counted. According to the Rev. Shirley Bowen, executive director of Seeds of Hope, a revolving door of 20 volunteers helped at counting stations, as well as traversed Biddeford on foot to ensure that everyone had been counted.

“We had the most amazing volunteers,” Bowen said.

Bowen gave a presentation to the city council on Dec. 4 about the current rise of homelessness in Biddeford, with the school system confirming that there are about 50 homeless students. Seeds of Hope began a homelessness initiative with other organizations to work on finding solutions to the growing problem. Affiliated organizations include Heart of Biddeford, Biddeford Housing Authority, Maine Way, Biddeford Police Department, McArthur Library, Esther House, York County Community Action, the office of Sen. Angus King, Volunteers of America, and Southern Maine Health Care, as well as private residents. During her presentation, Bowen requested that members of city council commit to being involved in the initiative. Bowen has confirmed that two city councilors have taken her up on the plea, with Ward 5 Councilor Amy Clearwater and Ward 7 Councilor Michael Ready having joined the board since.

The Point in Time Survey was organized by Biddeford Community Development Coordinator Linda Waters. Waters has spearheaded the Neighborhood Network initiative, asking members to come out to discuss what makes them feel connected to their neighborhood and what changes they would like to see. As part of the meetings, neighbors voiced concerns over lack of housing. The need is so great that those seeking assistance have been told that the weight is between six and 10 years before they would receive assistance.

While the numbers of Biddeford homeless for this year have yet to be tabulated, Waters will soon look over the data to see the needs within the community. Based on last year’s Point in Time data, there were 1,125 homeless people in the state of Maine, with 1,027 sheltered and 98 unsheltered.

Those who volunteered not only donated their time, but also brought items for those who live outside. Donated items included tents, sleeping bags, backpacks filled with toiletries and nonperishable goods.

“The volunteers and donations made it so that everyone who came in could get as much help as they need,” Bowen said. “It was a really amazing showing of community and compassion.”

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

2019-01-31 / Community News

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