AUGUSTA — The number of homeless Mainers has dropped in recent years, and a state housing official said Friday efforts are underway to provide help in other areas.

Margaret Bean, deputy director of the Maine State Housing Authority, told more than 100 people at the United Way of Kennebec Valley’s annual breakfast that 7,020 people were homeless at some point in 2015, but she said data show that the number of people who have been homeless over the past three years has decreased by 721.

“The numbers are going down,” said Bean, a former board chairwoman of the local United Way chapter. “The number of bed nights has dropped and the average length of stay has gone down a lot.”

Bean thinks that changing the way the housing authority gives money to the 41 shelters across the state has helped reduce the number of homeless people in Maine.

The housing authority used to provide funds based on how many beds were used per night, Bean said, which “kind of provided an incentive for shelters to keep people longer.” Now shelters are being asked to spend money for staff and programs, and then if they show success in finding people housing, they can receive more funding.

“We keep trying new things,” Bean said. “If you are doing a really good job, you’ll get more than before. We are trying to make it rewarding.”

Several years ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development used a housing-first model that shows that when someone has a place to live, they are better equipped to solve other problems in their lives. Bean said using that plan in Maine has been successful.

“When we give people the services they need, not just housing, that’s where people find success,” she said. “We have been espousing this model.”

Statistics released last fall by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed a 13 percent drop in Maine’s homeless population from 2014 to 2015. The point-in-time survey found 2,372 people homeless in Maine in January 2015, compared to 2,726 a year earlier.

The Augusta Community Warming Center, now located at St. Mark’s Parish Hall, is providing people a place to spend the day out of the elements. Bean said she hears good things from director Deidrah Stanchfield about people using the center not only as a warm place to stay, but also as a place to look for jobs.

“People are using the center as a resource to try to make their lives better,” she said. “We need to get people engaged in fixing their problems to try and get better.”

New United Way of Kennebec County board chairman Michael Tardiff, of Augusta-based J.S. McCarthy Printers, said knowing the warming center is open, especially on a snowy day like Friday, is heartwarming.

“It’s really hard when you’re driving or walking around, knowing that somebody is out in the cold,” Tardiff said. “But in Augusta, knowing they have a place to go and a place to have a sense of community is really nice.”

Homelessness has not been talked about much on the presidential campaign trail, Bean said, even though there is still a problem nationally. Bean said Maine used to have leadership that was more invested in fighting the homelessness problem.

“(Gov. John) Baldacci said he was going to support services like the women’s house in Portland, and that’s the kind of leadership that it takes,” Bean said. “He was really into homelessness, and he got the issues. We don’t have that very much now.”

Before Bean’s keynote speech, the United Way’s leadership named its officers for 2016, including Tardiff, and presented St. Mark’s Parish with an award for leadership and volunteerism. Craig Garofalo, the group’s new vice chairman and the chief operating officer at Kennebec Savings Bank, told the guests that the campaign for 2015 raised more than $1.5 million.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ