Bangor’s Homelessness Crisis - Part 1: How is the City responding?

Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 10:47 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Bangor’s ongoing homelessness crisis has affected many in some way.

Some Bangor business owners say customers and staff are afraid to be downtown, and they’re calling for action from the city council.

In this first of two parts, Tom Krosnowski found out more about what’s going on downtown, and how city staff and police are handling it.

“There’s no way anybody could have seen this coming,” Sgt. Jason McAmbley of the Bangor Police Department said. “Not to this magnitude. It’s grown so quickly.”

Bangor’s homeless population has risen from 30 people in 2019 to more than 200 as of Oct. 28, 2022. It’s an issue that requires a multi-pronged solution, but Bangor business owners are getting impatient.

“They’ve got to do something,” Mark Greenleaf, owner of Carolina Sports and Spirits. “Right now, they’re doing nothing, and they’ve been studying it for 10 months. They’re studying it to death. It’s ridiculous.”

Greenleaf says he has found needles and human waste on his property, and he’s been assaulted by the homeless.

“There’s no reason anyone should have to defend themselves or their property on a regular basis because of things like this. Or, we shouldn’t have to in this Bangor, beautiful little community, once beautiful community.”

Greenleaf says customers and employees have told him they’re scared to come downtown. City Council Chair Rick Fournier says the Council is taking action to address the issue.

“It’s something that we’re working on daily,” Fournier said. “It gets a little frustrating when people come to the City that haven’t taken the time to look at what the City has done.”

He points to the statewide strategy to address homelessness - Built for Zero - and 340 new housing units approved since June.

“Built For Zero is up and running,” Fournier said. “I feel really good regarding the number of housing units that are being added. I feel really good about our meeting with Housing and Urban Development. We’re making gains. It doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough right now.”

An effect felt by Bangor Police. The day we spoke, McAmbley said they’d responded to 20 calls regarding the homeless, but most of them aren’t crimes.

“A lot of the same people over and over that you keep chasing down the street, and chasing down the street, and chasing down the street,” McAmbley said. “Taking them to jail doesn’t solve the problem. They’re going to get out of jail, and they’re going to be right back in the situation that put them in jail in the first place.

“So, we’ve got this loop that somehow we’ve got to break, and the way I see it, in my experience, the only way we’re gonna break that is we have to treat their addiction issues, got to treat their mental health issues. And right now, we don’t have the resources to treat either of those.”

As it relates to business downtown, McAmbley says citizens should feel safe and confident in the police response if needed.

“We don’t have homeless-on-citizen crime. You’re not going to get assaulted by homeless people when you come downtown. You might get yelled at, you might get screamed at, and we don’t like that. We want you to call us. We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got, we just we don’t have enough.”