AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Housing on Tuesday held its first public hearing on a bill to address the state’s burgeoning problem of homelessness.

Specifically, the bill focuses on targeting the state’s chronically homeless population — estimated to be between 400 and 700 people — depending on whose figures are used.

Chronically homeless refers to people who have been unhoused for 12 consecutive months or more, or have suffered repeated instances of homelessness over several years. They are targeted because they are the most difficult of the homeless population to break the cycle, and many have long-term mental health issues, physical disabilities and/or substance abuse issues. Administrators within the homeless services community mostly agree that targeting this population is the most effective way to reduce the homeless population.

The bill, sponsored by Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, embraces the Housing First model and identifies and establishes a source of funding to pay for the supportive services that are part and parcel of any Housing First program. Those services include case management, counseling, access to substance abuse treatment and help finding permanent housing.

Housing First is a low-barrier approach to ending homelessness — get the people off the streets and out of the woods and into housing — regardless of whether they may still be using — and offering wraparound services, which are the most costly part of transitioning the unhoused.

The bill would establish a Housing First Fund within the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which would be funded by taking 50% of the real estate transfer tax, about $13 million a year, which goes into the General Fund. MaineHousing would administer technical assistance for the development of housing consistent with the program.


The bill is scheduled for a work session Friday, which brought a plea from Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, a member of the committee and listed as a co-sponsor of the bill, to push back the work session to enable the committee to gather more information and allow a more comprehensive approach.

“I believe that Mainers need to see something immediate,” Talbot Ross offered in response, “given the crisis with housing that we all agree on, so I would prefer that this bill have its work session and that we move it through the normal process.”

Speaker after speaker addressed the select committee to endorse the bill and offer support for it. Many of the speakers work directly with homeless populations in cities and towns across the state.

Some, however, pointed out that the Housing First model — whose success has been well-documented at Preble Street in Portland — needs not be restricted to the site-based model used at Preble Street’s Huston Commons, Logan Place and Florence House, but should also include smaller units that are more common in smaller communities and have three or four apartments.

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