Despite ongoing efforts to address Bangor’s swelling homelessness crisis, demand for the city’s shelters and warming centers appears strong heading into the coldest part of the year.
Three Bangor organizations that provide a warm place to stay, hot meals and winter clothing to the city’s most vulnerable residents said they’re seeing just as many people, if not more, compared to this time last year.
Those centers are consistently at or near capacity now, and although workers recognize many of the people seeking help, there are new faces as well.
The news comes after local outreach workers have been working to beat back the city’s continuing homelessness crisis by working individually with residents of two major encampments. This work – which a federal disaster relief team helped implement — has led to some people gaining permanent housing, but there are still many living outside who are now looking for a place to keep warm at night.
In the two weeks since the Mansion Church on Center Street opened its overnight warming center, Pastor Terry Dinkins said about 20 to 25 people stay each night, closing in on the center’s 30-person capacity.
The Mansion Church offers people a hot meal every night, access to a shower, and the church’s basement is filled with donations from the community, much of which is clothing and shoes.
Since Nov. 1, a total of 85 people have signed into the Mansion Church’s warming center in total. Some only stay for a single night or a few hours, but others return each night.
“That’s a lot of people in two weeks,” Dinkins said. “I think there are more homeless people than we’ve had in the past, and a lot are new. It seems like there’s more of a need this year.”
About half of the church’s visitors appear to be newcomers, while the others are faces Dinkins recognizes from months and years prior. Newcomers are mostly from surrounding communities who came to Bangor seeking services, Dinkins said, and he hasn’t met anyone from out-of-state.
While some people seem prepared for the cold Maine weather, Dinkins said he’s seen many others who need warm clothing, winter coats and boots, which the church is able to supply.
“Things are going fairly well so far, but we’re just getting started,” Dinkins said. “We have another four and a half months to go. It’s only going to get colder and the snow is coming soon.”
The Hope House Health and Living Center on Corporate Drive offers 56 beds in its emergency shelter, which are typically nearly or entirely full, according to Lori Dwyer, president and CEO of Penobscot Community Health Care, which runs the shelter — and announced Friday that it’s looking to transfer the shelter to a new owner.
The Hope House is Bangor’s only low-barrier shelter, which means criminal background checks, income verification, program participation, sobriety and identification are not required for a person to stay there.
This results in the shelter serving more vulnerable people — such as those experiencing chronic homelessness — who usually lack adequate clothing to keep them warm when spending an extended period of time outdoors in the winter.
“Typically, folks who are coming into the shelter are in various phases of being unhoused,” Dwyer said. “If they’re new to it, they might have a little more available to them, but most people don’t. There’s generally always a substantial need for warm winter gear.”
Dwyer said people most often need warm boots, socks, coats, hats and mittens.
The Brick Church’s warming center on Union Street is reaching its 20-person capacity each night, and another 50 people usually eat dinner at the center, according to Pastor Nick DeMerchant.
Those numbers, DeMerchant said, seem to be on par compared to this time last year.
While DeMerchant said he recognizes several people accessing the warming center, there are also new faces. Most, however, appear to be prepared for the colder winter weather that’s fast approaching.
DeMerchant also expects to see a slight drop in people coming into the warming center when other similar resources, like the warming center offered by Jericho Road in the River Church, open in the coming weeks.
The Bangor Area Homeless Shelter did not return requests for comment on Friday.