One common flaw throughout Maine is the lack of affordable housing. This gap in housing causes more people to become at risk of experiencing homelessness. Extremely low-income households, including families and individuals, struggle enough to make ends meet, and more often than not it is just not enough income to support paying their rent. Accumulating debt is likely, now more than ever, and unavoidable for some as we head into the colder months.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 27% of all renting households in Maine are extremely low-income. Extremely low-income households are at or fall below the poverty line, or are below 30% of the area median income. The lack of affordable housing across the state and in Mid-Coast Maine has created an indefinite need for housing. A lack of affordable housing means that Tedford guests typically stay longer at emergency shelters because it is harder to find a permanent place to live. As guests stay for longer periods of time at the emergency shelters, other individuals and families are turned away due to lack of vacant beds and units. There is a chain reaction caused by the lack of affordable housing in the community. Tedford Housing turned away 266 individual adults and 133 family members in the 2020 fiscal year alone.
These extremely low-income households are often the households that have several barriers in the process to securing permanent housing, and are at the highest risk of experiencing homelessness. Some of the barriers Tedford Housing’s clients face are past convictions, mental health problems, poor or no credit, and the inability to secure a job with a steady income. At Tedford Housing, our guests and clients all receive case management services to help break down the barriers faced when finding a permanent place to live. Case management is at the core of all Tedford Housing services. From emergency shelter, supportive housing, and homeless prevention and outreach services, a case manager is actively engaged and involved in that client’s success. Tedford’s case managers also work as housing navigators to help find the most suitable and affordable place to live for those clients who may have trouble accessing resources and housing vouchers, working with landlords and completing a housing search on their own.
Other factors that contribute to the number of people experiencing homelessness in Maine are home heating expenses and the percentage of household income spent on housing costs. Most low-income households are spending over half of their income on rent every month, leaving room for little else, not to mention emergency spending on medical bills or heating costs. Some households do not have money to spend on heat during the long winters here in Maine. When a child is cold, what is a parent to do? Many community programs, such as the Tedford Housing’s Warm Thy Neighbor program, provide emergency heating bill assistance to those in the community who qualify based on income and who may be at risk of homelessness. Other programs include the Maine Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Cumberland County’s Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP).
As more households across Maine are spending an increased amount of their income on housing, leaving little for other expenses, an increasing percentage of those households are at greater risk of experiencing homelessness. This could create more stress on emergency shelters and other supportive services across the state. Tedford Housing and other community organizations are already expecting an increase of housing and service requests within the coming months as eviction moratoriums end and winter begins. If you want to make a difference in your community, support your local non-profit housing and homelessness organizations. You can also advocate for change through your local legislator or town council. The only way to stop this problem is to increase the number of affordable housing units in the state of Maine, and those at risk of homelessness need your help.
Blaine Flanders is the community and donor relations coordinator at Tedford Housing. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community.