PORTLAND – Independent Angus King and Democrat Cynthia Dill told members of Portland’s homeless community Thursday that they want to improve access to affordable housing and protect the social safety net.

Both criticized their Republican rival in Maine’s U.S. Senate race, Charlie Summers, for not attending the forum on poverty and homelessness.

The event was sponsored by Homeless Voices for Justice and the Preble Street social services agency. King and Dill toured the agency’s facility downtown and met with its staff and clients before sitting down to answer questions.

Dill promised to be a strong advocate for spending federal dollars on programs for the poor and those in need, rather than on wealthy and powerful interests that can afford lobbyists. She said she stood up for the poor in the state Legislature and would do the same in Washington.

“I will do everything I can as a United States senator to make sure this issue is always at the forefront of policymakers’ minds,” she said. “It’s not just good for you. It’s good for our communities. It’s good for our health.”

King said he wants Congress to do its job, reduce the federal deficit and stabilize the budget so that affordable-housing programs and other services are no longer in danger of deep cuts.

Housing-for-the-homeless programs in Portland, such as Logan Place and Florence House, are “exactly what we need to do,” King said. “We have to demonstrate that they work and in the long run they save us money.”

Dill and King said they were moved by the stories they heard and would continue to listen if elected.

A woman who identified herself as 61-year-old Paulette submitted a written question saying she may have to wait a year for disability benefits that will enable her to move out of the homeless shelter.

“I cannot survive that long,” she said.

Kenneth Tilley, 61, who is disabled and has been homeless since May, said after the forum that he was glad that the candidates came to see the building where he and others sleep on cots each night.

“No matter where you come from or where you were, everybody in America has a chance to be homeless,” he said.

Summers, who has toured Preble Street during past runs for office, missed the event because he was campaigning in Lewiston on Thursday morning, his spokesman said. Along with Dill and King, some members of the audience criticized Summers for missing the forum.

“The fact that he wasn’t here shows us where he stands,” said Jim Devine, who has been homeless in the past and is now an advocate with Homeless Voices for Justice. “I really hope these two folks (King and Dill) don’t split the vote.”

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

[email protected]

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