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Over 30 community organizations unite in Penobscot County to call for funding of chronic community problems

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 5:27 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) -Millions of dollars in funding will be coming to counties and municipalities through the American Rescue Act.

Dozens of community organizations in Penobscot County are joining together to call for investments in chronic and worsening problems in the region.

“A lot of times, the most vulnerable are the ones who are given the last thought.” says Sean Faircloth, Executive Director of Together Place. “That’s why this coalition has united, and come together. So we are all for one and one for all.”

What may be the largest collaboration ever of community organizations in Penobscot County was announced in Bangor Thursday morning near Pickering Square. The group is over 30 organizations strong.

“This list is growing.” says Doug Dunbar, Recovery & Re-Entry Workforce Specialist for Eastern Maine Development Corporation. “Just this morning two more organizations have signed on.”

They are seeking support for those with mental illness, substance use disorders, housing issues, and more.

“The problems in Penobscot County are numerous, deadly, serious, and mounting.” says Whitney Parrish, Director of Advocacy for Health Equity Alliance.

“Here at Wellspring, I have 77 people on my residential waitlist this morning.” says Wellspring Executive Director Suzanne Farley. “That’s 77 people in our community waiting to get care. We have excessive numbers of people on waitlists, not just at Wellspring, but at all social service agencies.”

The group has sent a statement to Penobscot County Commissioners, city and town councilors, and legislators.

“We urge you to create a public process to discuss community needs and ways to better address them.” Parrish read from the statement.

“Oftentimes, those problems get the last drop in the bucket.” says Dunbar.

Millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act will be available for allocation soon.

“About 30 for Penobscot county, 20 for the city of Bangor, and then another 10 for the towns immediately around Bangor.” says Dunbar. “Sixty million dollars are arriving.”

“This kind of pressure makes a difference.” says Geoffrey Gratwick, former Bangor city councilor and state senator. “We must spend this money well, for the people, right now.”

“Larry Danziger, one of our coalition, suggested that our ask is that of these funds, both county and state, that 50% go to these causes of the most vulnerable.” says Faircloth. “United is the way we will address one of the biggest crises of our time.”

The full statement from the group follows.

Penobscot County is a wonderful place to live. The concern we show for our neighbors—particularly the most vulnerable—tops the list of what makes it special.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its collateral consequences have changed our lives and the world around us. The pandemic’s many impacts have caused considerable harm, especially for people suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders (SUD), as well as individuals who are unhoused and living in poverty. As you know, there is significant overlap between these groups of people and their experiences.

The problems in Penobscot County are numerous, deadly serious and mounting:

- An overdose crisis with the second highest percentage of deaths among all counties in 2021 and twice as many per capita as Cumberland County;

- Waiting lists for mental health care and substance use disorder (SUD) treatment, and a significant need for more peer support services;

- Shelters at capacity and a substantial lack of affordable housing; and

- A chronically overcrowded jail.

Sadly, these distressing realities are not new. They have been known to us for years. They’re growing worse. They cry out for focused attention and substantial investments in healing and wellness.

September is National Recovery Month. It highlights the hope and promise of recovery for individuals experiencing mental health disorders and substance use challenges. This year’s theme—Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community—is a call to action.

This month is an opportune time to pause and consider how our communities and county can do considerably more to support individuals in need and solve more of our collective problems.

With unprecedented sums of federal money available to Penobscot County and its municipalities, including more than $60 million in American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA) funds for Penobscot County, the City of Bangor and surrounding municipalities, we urge you to create a public process to discuss community needs and ways to better address them.

Those ARPA dollars, combined with other resources and leveraged to secure additional funding, can change—even save—countless lives and make our communities healthier, safer and much more livable.

Before any action is taken to allocate federal funding to specific purposes, we ask for time to consider the brighter future possible for all of our neighbors—including the most vulnerable—and how our communities and county can benefit substantially in the long-term. Let’s have a meaningful conversation.

Statement from participating agencies and organizations

Participating Agencies and Organizations (as of September 14, 2021)

Bangor Area Recovery Network (BARN), Brewer

Bangor Friends of Affordable Housing, Bangor

Bangor Friends of People in Need, Bangor

Breaking the Cycle, Millinocket

Consumer Council System of Maine, Bangor and Statewide

Dignity First, Bangor

Fresh Start Sober Living Houses, Bangor and Brewer

Food AND Medicine, Brewer/Penobscot County

Greater Bangor Housing Coalition, Bangor

Health Equity Alliance (HEAL), Bangor/Penobscot County

Higher Ground, Brewer

Hope House, Bangor/Penobscot County

Indivisible Bangor, Bangor

Life Lessons Psychiatric Services, Bangor

Mabel Wadsworth Center, Bangor/Penobscot County

Maine Mental Health Connections, Bangor

Maine People’s Alliance, Statewide

Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, Statewide

Maine Prisoner Re-entry Network, Statewide

Needlepoint Sanctuary, Bangor

NAMI Maine, Statewide

No Penobscot County Jail Expansion, Bangor/Penobscot County

Peace & Justice Center, Bangor/Penobscot County

Pir2Peer Recovery Community Center, Millinocket

Penobscot Community Health Care (PCHC), Bangor/Penobscot County

Penobscot County Jail Storytelling Project, Penobscot County

Poor People’s Campaign, Penobscot County/Statewide

Racial Equity & Justice, Bangor/Penobscot County

A Time To Rise -- Counseling & Wellness, Brewer

Together Place Peer Run Recovery Center, Bangor

Welcome to Housing Home Goods Bank, Inc., Bangor/Penobscot County

Wellspring, Bangor

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