AUGUSTA -The state’s Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development voted 9 – 2 in support of a measure to stabilize funding for Maine’s homeless shelters today.
“No one chooses to be homeless. Our shelters serve as the last line of defense for the neediest among us,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland, the sponsor of the measure. “The purpose of this bill is to provide a dedicated and stable funding source to ensure that our most vulnerable Mainers have a safe place to sleep at night. As legislators, we have a responsibility to make sure shelters are adequately funded and there’s a place for Mainers to go to and be safe. ”
During the work session, the bill was amended to include funding for a human trafficking shelter.
Currently, the state appropriates $380,000 per year for the 42 shelters across the state, which is down from $500,000 when the fund was established in 1987. An additional and discretionary $2.4 million comes from Maine Housing’s HOME Fund, which is meant to establish permanent housing for the homeless. Some municipalities, like Portland and Bangor, have been forced to rely on General Assistance to close the funding gap.
During a public hearing on the measure in March, dozens showed up in support of the measure, including Mark Swann, Executive Director of Preble Street who said, “The fragility of Maine’s shelters cannot be overstated. Over the last 15 years, 12 to 13 shelters have closed because of lack of funding. We have a problem; and this bill can be a great start toward a solution. Let’s reform the broken system.”
According to Swann, on a given night in Maine, there are 1,000 Mainers sleeping in one of Maine’s 42 shelters each night.
The measure LD 443, “An Act To Help Stabilize Homeless Shelters in Maine” will now go to the Senate for initial consideration.