Facing a shortage of affordable housing or shelter accommodation options, Maine’s homeless people, or those at imminent risk of becoming homeless, are being offered tents and camping gear, according to officials.
The general assistance administrator for the state, Jodie Stout, told the local Bangor Daily News newspaper that during good weather the city can’t put people in temporary housing in Waldo county, so it’s offering outdoor camping gear instead.
According to the paper, demand is so great that local residents have begun inviting donations of camping gear to help meet demand.
One single mother, who gave her name as Angie, said she was facing eviction from her apartment after falling behind on her rent when Waldo county officials offered to help her find a tent for her and her two kids.
“It is a little discouraging to be told that all we have to offer you is a tent,” she said. “It really is actually blowing my mind, too. I didn’t realize there was such a need.”
Belfast officials say it is municipal and state policy that in nice weather, the city can’t put people into temporary housing such as hotel rooms unless the homeless person has a medical condition.
Stout said that’s when she had the idea to use social media to ask for donations of tents, sleeping bags and other camping gear. “Sleeping bags. A cooler,” Stout said. “You have to think, they can’t have a refrigerator. What can they put their food in?”
However, being given a tent doesn’t confer the right to pitch it. Three months ago, in nearby Bangor, city officials cleared out a large homeless encampment, an action that resulted in more numerous, smaller camps springing up around the city.
Advocates for the homeless said the policy would ultimately force homeless populations to retreat into the deep woods where they are less visible but where they are also less likely to receive social services they need.
The homeless problem in Maine conforms to many across the country. On Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, property owners are going to court to block a legal settlement that restricts the city’s rights to clear homeless encampments.
Under the settlement the city reached in March and made public in May, authorities can haul away and destroy sofas, pallets and hazardous materials, but may no longer toss homeless people’s personal property that exceeds what would fit into a 60-gallon garbage bag or container.