WATERVILLE — There was a time some 14 years ago when homeless shelters practiced “housing readiness,” or focusing immediately on medical, mental and behavioral health needs when someone first entered their doors.

If the process was successful, a person could soon be placed in transitional housing, learn to build an income and develop a relationship with a landlord for permanent housing.

But shelter officials began to realize that many coming into the shelters tended to crash and burn, having to reveal past trauma right away and go through a process that led them to drop out and land back on the street.

A different approach now is used to ensure people have long-term, sustainable housing, according to Katie Spencer White, CEO of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter on Colby Street in Waterville. She spoke Wednesday at a virtual forum held as part of a three-part discussion on housing, homelessness and poverty.

Shelter officials focus on a person’s medical, mental and other needs only after that person has secured permanent housing, White said.

“‘Housing first’ is now the preferred model,” she said.


A primary strategy for ensuring permanent housing is rental assistance, she explained. Many people do not make $19 an hour, the wage necessary to have a market-rate apartment, she said. The state minimum wage is $12.15 an hour and there aren’t many people with a high school diploma who earn a wage that enables them to have an unsubsidized apartment on their own, she said, explaining that “rental assistance is the key.”

While shelter beds are costly, they are less costly than jail cells and hospitals, and those who aren’t able to get into shelters and permanent housing often end up in jail or emergency rooms, according to White. That means rental assistance and nonprofit or public housing is the least expensive way to ensure long-term housing stability, she said.

The Waterville shelter received some money from Maine State Housing Authority at the beginning of this year to help divert people coming into the shelter. That has been successful, she said. For instance, a homeless person may be able to live with a relative out of state, but has no transportation to get there, and the money may be used for a bus ticket, she said.

The third and final forum is scheduled to be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 and those wanting to participate may contact Tanya Fossett, the shelter’s development and communications director, at 660-1042.

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