Amber Lesperance, 35, emerges from her tent Jan. 2 while packing her belongings as Portland city workers clear a large homeless encampment at Harbor View Park. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald file

Rent for families escaping abuse. Human trafficking prevention. Tens of thousands of meals.

Those are among the initiatives across Maine that are to be bolstered by a $20 million federal grant announced last week.

About 60% of the grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is to go to state agencies, while the remainder is to be divided between 14 organizations combatting homelessness and domestic violence across Maine.

The funding is vital for many of the smaller local organizations that receive it, according to Francine Garland, executive director of the Augusta-based Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

“This is both a renewal and an expansion,” she said. “It’s kind of the ideal sort of grant support, because it pays for both the direct need of supporting housing for people that desperately need it and for the staff support that people need in order to be successful.”

The coalition has been awarded more than $1.8 million from the grant. Most of the money is to go toward the organization’s initiatives to provide housing and rental assistance for families and individuals escaping domestic and sexual violence, Garland said.


“These funds are specifically focused on families that are escaping abuse and violence,” she said. “We’re not shifting our focus, but we are expanding the scope of our work to better meet the needs that we’ve always known were there.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced the grant funding last week in an announcement to the news media, saying the funding is part of a federal push to engage community-level organizations with “the goal of ending homelessness.”

“Too many Mainers will be forced this winter to go without having a safe place to eat, sleep and, call home,” Collins said in the written statement. “I was pleased to champion these substantial investments that will address the urgent needs of vulnerable populations in Maine, helping to ensure our neighbors have access to the necessary support to regain stability and independence.”

Preble Street, a Portland-based organization with initiatives that provide food, shelter, financial assistance, addiction treatment, housing for veterans and more services to hundreds of thousands of people in southern Maine, has been awarded about $2.5 million from the grant, the most of any nongovernmental organization.

Desiree Rowe and Tyler Linscott arrive Dec. 1 at a homeless encampment under the Casco Bay Bridge, which spans the Fore River and connects Portland and South Portland. Their belongings were transported from an encampment on Somerset Street by outreach workers from Preble Street, a Portland-based organization with initiatives that provide food, shelter, financial assistance, addiction treatment, housing for veterans and more services to hundreds of thousands of people in southern Maine. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald file

Erin Kelley, Preble Street’s senior director of social work, said the organization expects to use the money for a variety of its programs, including a new rapid rehousing program in Lewiston that she is spearheading. Similar programs have been implemented to wide success in Portland and around the country with federal support.

“The whole goal is that we’re getting folks out of the homeless service system and into permanent housing as quickly as we possibly can,” Kelley said. “What’s really exciting to me is that I’ve seen the model work really well for a whole variety of different folks over the course of the last several years.


“I’m particularly excited to bring this to Lewiston, just because these types of resources are really far and few between in that specific area.”

Safe Voices in Auburn, the only provider of support and shelter services in much of western Maine, has been awarded $161,580 from the grant. Most of the money is expected to support Safe Voices’ initiatives to prevent human trafficking and assist survivors in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, according to Elise Johansen, the group’s executive director.

New Beginnings in Lewiston, which serves homeless and runaway youth, is to receive $164,339.

Safe Voices Executive Director Elise Johansen gives a guided tour in April 2023 of a newly renovated shelter and resource center in Farmington. The shelter is a communal living space built to house six residents, depending on the family size. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal file

“Safe Voices is using (the funding) in conjunction with our human sex trafficking work that we’re doing, and helping people get into apartments, and then assisting them with rent for the first 12 months or so,” Johansen said. “There is a whole lot of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Maine; specifically, people who are experiencing substance use disorder are sometimes further exploited.”

Johansen said domestic violence and homelessness are often intertwined, with many victims forced to flee abusive living situations. Johansen and Kelley said homelessness, drug abuse and domestic violence are often symptoms of systemic issues much larger than the organizations attempting to combat them.

“There’s this belief that homelessness is an individual failing, when in reality, so much of it is systemic, particularly when you look at things like vacancy rates or how expensive housing is getting in Maine,” Kelley said. “It’s often much larger than the individual. It’s the systemic issues. It’s a lack of affordable housing. It’s a lack of ability to engage or get a subsidy for affordable housing when they need it in a timely way.”


Despite often being the only providers of aid and shelter in their respective communities, smaller organizations, such as Safe Voices, often face hurdles when applying to and receiving federal grants, Johansen said.

Most federal grants have specific requirements and complex, time-consuming application processes, she said, making it difficult for small organizations with limited resources to apply and receive funding.

“We are constantly applying for additional grants, additional funding streams,” Johansen said. “There is no one funding stream that fully allows us to do the work. The organizations that get this HUD funding in Maine are doing some really crucial work, and, believe it or not, although this is a nice amount of money that’s coming in, it’s still not enough.”

Combined with inflation, the rising cost of housing and other economic and market trends, Johansen said federal grants like this one do not provide the level of aid they once did for many smaller domestic violence and housing organizations.

“It’s the same amount we got last year, and it costs us more this year to do the same type of work,” she said. “All of our expenses in our organization have risen, including the cost of utilities and staffing. Rents have gone up. The money just doesn’t go as far year over year.”

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