As Maine’s biggest city, Portland is a hub for all kinds of economic activity. It’s where wealthy people from all over come to spend lavishly on artistically composed restaurant meals, and it’s where people with nothing come to find a hot bowl of soup, a warm floor to sleep on and a chance to start over.

There are about 70,000 Portland residents, but at any time of day you could count three times that many people within the city limits because of the opportunities it offers.

Portland’s economic dynamism is good for Maine. Sales tax collected in Portland stores and restaurants goes straight to Augusta. Tax revenue from new construction is fed into the school funding formula, reducing the amount of state money sent to city schools.

But when it comes to taking care of the people who can’t care for themselves, the state is not so eager to be involved. This is wrong.

Homelessness is a state problem, not a local one. The state’s failure to address the opioid crisis has destroyed lives in every corner of Maine. The state’s failure to provide community mental health services has left very sick people with nowhere to go.

The collapse of the rural economy has forced people with no resources to go elsewhere to look for work.


But when these people show up in Portland, they become a local problem.

This wasn’t always the case. Before 2015, the state played a bigger role in funding homeless services by letting the city use General Assistance funds to pay overhead at its shelter. But under the LePage administration, the Department of Health and Human Services ended that agreement, forcing city taxpayers to shoulder that cost.

Recently, Portland has begun trying to bill cities and towns when one of their former residents appears at Portland’s homeless shelter. It has had mixed results, with some communities paying the bill, and others pushing back saying that Portland has to prove that the same individual asked for assistance in their hometown and was refused.

This is not workable. Maine does not issue internal passports, and everyone has the right to go wherever they think they can have the best life. Someone who shows up at a homeless shelter seeking a place to sleep is no more a resident than someone who spends the night in a hotel.

The state should share the responsibility to house the homeless, just as the state shares the lodging tax that’s collected at hotels.

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