BATH — Although homelessness may not be as apparent here as in some larger cities, a new group has formed to show it does exist, and to help tackle the problem.
The Bath Initiative on Homelessness will have its next meeting at City Hall from 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25.
“We’re just really exploring right now, and trying to bring into awareness and visibility an issue that I suspect is bigger than we know it is,” Bill Bliss, pastor of the Neighborhood Faith Community United Church of Christ, said Tuesday. “It’s just a matter of bringing it out into the open.”
Bliss was among those who organized an initial meeting Oct. 28, which was attended by nearly 30 people, including Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry and City Councilor David Sinclair, according to a Nov. 11 press release.
Bliss said he does not think anyone can say exactly how many people in Bath are without homes, but he noted that those people tend to be hidden, staying in places like cars and friends’ homes.
He said he knows of some homeless people through their attendance at the local food pantry, soup kitchen and neighborhood cafe.
“We don’t hear as much about (homelessness),” Police Chief Mike Field said, noting that in some cases people without homes might be “couch surfing,” staying with one friend as long as they can and then moving onto another friend’s home.
“We’re fortunate that we have Tedford Housing,” the chief added. “If we have a homeless issue, (they’re) usually the first folks we contact to see what they can do for us.”
Field encourages those in need to call 2-1-1, a service that provides information on community resources.
Martha Stein, director of community relations with Tedford, said the organization runs two supportive housing apartments in Bath for people who have previously been homeless. A case manager works with residents to help them get their lives in order and gain access to needed services.
A five-unit building, Gilbert Place at 500 Middle St., is for adults with mental health-related disabilities. The six-unit Evergreen Woods building at 10 James Way has two- and three-bedroom apartments and is for families where a primary adult has a disabling condition, Stein said.
Both buildings are almost always full. Residents pay rent and must follow specific rules, Stein said.
“The goal is that for people who have been homeless, (who) have so many challenges … we can get them into a stable environment and then have somebody work with them,” she explained.
Maria Hinteregger, associate director of community impact with United Way of Mid Coast Maine, Wednesday said the homelessness issue is very complicated, in part because people don’t want to leave their communities.
“So the idea that you can have a shelter in one place, and that’s going to solve the problem for a whole area, is not something that works very well, and yet it’s the only model we have,” Hinteregger said.
Building shelters is a major challenge, and funding for shelters is decreasing, she said, “so economically it is not something that is easily undertaken.”
The affordability of housing is a significant factor with the issue of homelessness, Hinteregger explained.
“As always, the best thing you can do, and cheapest thing you can do, is keep people in housing,” she said. “So oftentimes, if you can put your efforts there, it’s less costly, there are not the same kinds of administrative pieces where you need to be reporting in the same way you would with a shelter, and it’s much easier on folks if you can keep them in their homes.”
For people 18 and younger, couch surfing is considered homelessness, while for above that age it is not, Hinteregger said.
The Bath Initiative on Homelessness is geared toward getting a sense of the scope of the issue, “and then to connect the willingness and the heart of the community to the problem as it presents itself,” Bliss said.
As a resident of Bath for about 15 years, he said he has found the community to have “a beautiful heart, and a great willingness to care for neighbors. … It will be interesting just to bring the issue into the open, and see how the community responds.”
Call Bliss at the Neighborhood Faith Community church at 443-2187 for more information.