When COVID-19 hit Maine in March, MaineHousing began working with several partners to launch wellness shelters in Maine communities. These extensions of local homeless shelters helped contain the spread of COVID-19 among people who are homeless. Local homeless shelters, Maine DHHS, the University of Maine System, and the Maine Emergency Management Agency united to create these temporary shelters. The wellness shelters together housed 255 people - for 10,064 bed nights* - who would otherwise not have had a place to stay during the early months of the pandemic.
Through this process, those staying in wellness shelters didn’t need to keep their usual schedule of leaving the shelter at a certain time for a day on the streets. Guests had the stability of staying in one place (on a cot that remains theirs for as long as they stay) and not having to leave during the day.
As MaineHousing Director Dan Brennan told the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee, “We simply can’t go back to the way things were” before the pandemic. We are working with our partners at the Statewide Homeless Council to move toward a new homeless services structure in Maine.
We continue to fund homeless shelters in Maine – for emergency COVID operations and for regular operations. At the same time, we’re concentrating our attention and action on what lies ahead. This means, in part, doing the hard work of helping to redesign Maine’s homeless response around what we really value: help and compassion for some of our most vulnerable fellow Mainers, dignity in service provision, and the belief that all people deserve a safe home. We’re excited to be part of what comes next and for a better approach to these critical services.
*Bed nights are the number of nights people stay. For example, if one person stays 3 nights, they are count as one person served for three bed nights.