May 24, 2019

Funding cuts, rule changes strain Bangor area shelters > Group says aid agencies must work together to survive

BANGOR — The Greater Bangor Area Shelter is facing funding problems.

The funding it and the Ellsworth shelter expected to get in August from a major Department of Housing and Urban Development grant went elsewhere in the state. Portland received $250,000, which was most of the money.

Also, a recent State Auditing Office directive has changed how the local shelter can bill the city of Bangor for clients who spend the night. In the past, the staff could sign clients in and determine whether they were qualified to stay. The information was given to the city, and the shelter was reimbursed $11.40 per client per stay.

Under the new state rule, shelter clients have to go to the General Assistance Office on Texas Avenue and fill out an application stating that they stayed the night at the shelter.

Many of the people who use the center suffer from mental illness and need assistance in making out the applications, said Susan Brainerd, director of the shelter.

The state mandate has burdened the shelter because it may not be reimbursed because clients have trouble getting to Texas Avenue or trouble making out the application.

Shelter officials said this could cost the shelter about $36,000 annually.

In addition to overnight accommodations, the shelter provides numerous referral services, which would be affected by a loss of funding.

The state’s action also could affect the Hope House and the Shaw House, which is a shelter for teens.

The screening currently done at the shelters would have to be done by the General Assistance Office after the fact, and it could turn out that people who were given a night’s shelter do not qualify, which would mean no reimbursement.

A coalition of politicians, care providers, and concerned residents going under the name of Northeast Networking and Support plans to meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, at the Acadia Hospital to address the problems related to the shelters.

Members of the group — former state representative and Bangor Mayor Mary Sullivan, Brainerd, Bangor psychiatrist Dr. Janet Ordway, Rep. Hugh Morrison, D-Bangor, and Gene Hoguet, involved in mental health services in Hancock County — met with the editorial board of the Bangor Daily News Wednesday to discuss the issue.

Cuts to shelter program funding represent just a part of the massive state and federal cuts that will affect all of the area’s social service agencies, said Morrison. It is time for all of the agencies to come together, he said.

Ordway said the cuts would affect St. Joseph Hospital and Eastern Maine Medical Center, Medicare, Medicaid, Acadia Hospital, the Community Health and Counseling Services, and all of the other social service agencies in the area.

She said some groups are sharing goods and services, but more of that needs to be done.

As an example, Brainerd produced a copy of a Shelter Wish List that she presented to the group at the last meeting, and said she walked away from the meeting with many of the goods and services she needed. Some of those things were a desk, chairs, hospital beds, access to an agency’s copier, use of a fax machine, and training on how to work with people who have mental illness.

Staff, secretarial services, goods and volunteers are among the other things that can be shared. The community needs to determine what it wants in hospital care, rape crisis response, and homeless and abuse shelters, said Brainerd.

There needs to be greater community effort to raise funds, said Morrison, who reminded the group that the community used to take care of its own needs before it started to depend so heavily on state and federal aid. That aid is drying up, but the problems are not going away, he said.

Brainerd said the shelters are being forced to cope with problems they were not designed to handle. At first, the shelters housed homeless people put on the streets by economic conditions or drug and alcohol abuse, but today 80 percent to 90 percent of those using the shelters suffer from mental illness.

The shelters are getting calls from hospital intensive care units telling them a person just out of surgery will be released to the shelter; people with dialysis needs; quadriplegics in wheelchairs; and people with severe mental illness with medication needs. Brainerd said the shelter staffs are not trained to provide these medical and mental health services.

Hoguet said there is also concern that as mental health services are cut back, people will be dumped on the local hospitals, which are not qualified to provide the psychiatric care necessary.

“The city has to know that a year from now, social services and organizations are not going to look the same as they are now,” said Brainerd.

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