More than 50 people met in Augusta earlier this month to discuss the city’s response to childhood hunger and homelessness.

The forum, the first what organizers hope are many, was as necessary as it was well-attended. Homelessness and hunger both thrive in the shadows, particularly in areas such as central Maine, where the problem is spread out and less visible to the naked eye.

The city of Augusta will no doubt benefit from a more coordinated approach, particularly on homelessness.

But even though the city, and other service centers, draw more than their share of homeless residents, they shouldn’t be solely their problem.

For what is very much a regional issue, a regional solution is needed, one that fully uses the resources available in central Maine to keep homelessness in the light, and do more than quell emergencies.

There should be no doubt that there is a problem, and that there are people who want to help.

Augusta schools, for instance, had 101 homeless students last year.

The shelter at Bread of Life Ministries has 30 beds and turns away dozens each month for lack of space. Most of the people the shelter serves come in with a family.

In Waterville, Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter last winter filled its 48 adult beds, as well as mats on the floor.

And the shelter at the Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Skowhegan had such demand for its 60 beds set aside for homeless men that it is planning a 48-bed shelter for families.

Central Maine should be thankful to have such a strong, if stressed, safety net. People will always fall into emergency, and there has to be a way for them to get a meal or a warm place to sleep when they have nowhere else to go.

But increasingly, as the rest of the safety net falters, the shelters and services that are supposed to be for crises are being used for the long term, and people are being turned away.

That’s a problem for all communities in the region, not just the ones that have homeless shelters, and everybody should be involved in the solution.

It’s unclear what that solution may look like — homelessness, particularly in a mostly rural area, has no easy answers.

But a good start may be a regional meeting, much like the one held recently in Augusta, that attempts to get a true measure of homelessness in central Maine, and how organizations and communities can work together to lessen its impact.

At the very least, it would keep the issue in the public eye.


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