The realities of homelessness in rural Maine

Rumford neighborhood members say the price of lease has doubled or tripled over the previous few years, however salaries have remained comparatively the identical.

RUMFORD, Maine — As a city of fewer than 6,000 individuals, nestled in rolling inexperienced hills, Rumford is not a pit cease most Mainers or out-of-staters are likely to make. Alongside a winding river, a paper mill nonetheless in motion puffs plumes of smoke into the air. The downtown streets are quieter than these close to the coast the place vacationers flock for the summer season. That is an instance of what rural Maine is like. 

In locations like Portland, skyrocketing lease costs aren’t completely a shock. The truth is, in a time of report inflation and restoration from an unprecedented pandemic, it is nearly commonplace. However in Rumford, the story really is not completely totally different. Excessive dwelling prices are protecting individuals from having steady housing right here, too, in an space with far fewer sources than Maine’s greater cities.

“Plenty of occasions, individuals are available in and so they don’t have case administration, and so they don’t have companies,” Jana Mason, supervisor of Rumford’s Beacon Home Peer Restoration Heart, mentioned. “They’re actually simply type of misplaced, not realizing the place to go type of assist.”

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The Beacon Home Peer Restoration Heart has been round since 1991. Mason mentioned it acts as a useful resource for individuals experiencing challenges associated to psychological well being, substance use, and homelessness. Mason has been within the space since 2006 and says she has seen a rising want relating to housing.

“Extra so recently, we’ve had individuals coming right here, individuals strolling in, saying that they’re homeless,” Mason mentioned, including she has achieved her greatest to offer these in want issues like a sleeping bag or a tent or funds to remain at a campsite. 

Mason says the state of affairs is discouraging, although, and it fairly actually hits near residence. 

She says she understands the price of dwelling is spiking in all places, however she additionally believes landlords who’re coming in from out of state and elevating the price of lease leaves individuals on mounted incomes with few choices. 

“I simply actually really feel like within me, there’s simply a lot extra that our neighborhood can do,” Mason mentioned.

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One of many households she has helped intermittently is the Johnson’s. 

Brian and Jessica Johnson have two youngsters, 8-year-old Jaelynn and 5-year-old Zyon. Jessica says they’ve been dwelling out of their automotive for the previous two months.

“It simply feels limitless. It’s limitless,” Jessica mentioned. “[You] get your hopes up, after which one thing occurs.”

Jessica says she and her household gave their 30-day discover on their condominium in Mexico again in April due to well being issues associated to sewage water leaking into their toilet. She says they thought it will be simple to seek out one other condominium within the rural Rumford space, however that hasn’t been the case.

“Most locations you go take a look at, you discover a three-bedroom [apartment] — they need $1,600 for the month; after which the owner desires you to make thrice the quantity of lease,” Brian mentioned.

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The Johnson’s live on a hard and fast earnings of slightly greater than $2,200 monthly, as Brian, Jessica, and Jaelynn obtain incapacity by means of Social Safety. In addition they obtain a Part 8 Housing Selection Voucher and Emergency Rental Help, a program that started in response to the pandemic to assist eligible individuals pay for lease and utilities. 

In keeping with MaineHousing, although, potential landlords will not be required to just accept ERA. Jessica says that has been the largest downside find a brand new place for her household.

“My daughter goes to be turning 9 [on] July 27, and he or she does know we gained’t have a house for her birthday, so it’s type of discouraging,” Jessica mentioned.

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Michelle Worthley grew up in Rumford and is now the director of homeless companies at Rumford Group Properties, one of many solely shelters within the space. She says one- or two-bedroom residences was between $300 and $600 monthly. She says that quantity now could be nearer to $900 or $1,000. 

“It was onerous sufficient for households to have the ability to afford housing then, not to mention now,” Worthley mentioned. 

Worthley says lots of people experiencing homelessness within the space come from different municipalities similar to Auburn, Farmington, or Lewiston — and even different states, like Connecticut and Massachusetts. However, she says, there’s additionally a portion of this inhabitants that has deep, native roots.

“We’ve had a few households which have come into the shelter once I first began 10 years in the past. Now, their youngsters are grown up and having youngsters of their very own, [and] they’ve additionally come again into shelter,” Worthley mentioned, concerning the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

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In numerous methods, rural areas current distinctive challenges for these experiencing homelessness. 

Joleen Bedard is the chief director of the United Method of Androscoggin County, which additionally serves Oxford County. She says she believes COVID-19 is responsible for simply how a lot poverty points have elevated.

“I obtain calls every day from people which can be on the verge of homelessness, and it’s heartbreaking,” Bedard mentioned.

She says transportation is an enormous problem for individuals in rural areas, since there aren’t as many roles or shelters close by. In some ways, she says, experiencing homelessness is a double-edged sword for people. If they do not have a steady place to dwell and bathe and grow to be presentable for a job, it may be more durable to get employed. And, thus, the sample continues.

“The housing market as it’s — it’s actually tough, even if you happen to’re gainfully employed to even discover an condominium,” Bedard mentioned.

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Bedard says anybody in want of assist ought to name, textual content, or go to the 211 Maine web site. She says there, individuals can discover sources for his or her particular wants of their space.

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