Tents on Bangor waterfront create health and safety issue for the city

Bangor’s homeless population is more than double last year
Tents are being pitched along the Bangor waterfront by individuals experiencing homelessness.
Tents are being pitched along the Bangor waterfront by individuals experiencing homelessness.(Emily Tadlock)
Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 6:17 PM EDT

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - The City of Bangor’s homeless population is two to three times what it typically is this time of year, according city officials.

After a recent survey, the city estimates there are roughly 140 people living outside. Many of them are from out-of-state seeking federal resources, like rooms at the Ramada Inn which is now run as a shelter.

“They come to Bangor because this is where they know that there are people who are handing out tents, there are people who are providing food, there is shelter space available. They come because it is a service center,” said Fogler.

Tents are beginning to show up along the waterfront, a popular recreation area for residents. “It is a significant problem that the city is well aware of, very concerned about and meeting frequently to discuss how we’re going to address it,” said Asst. Director of Public Health and Community Services Rindy Fogler.

“The policy of the city is, if there is shelter available, then people are not allowed to tent on city property,” she said. A bed count as early as Tuesday morning shows that the area shelters have more than 20 beds available.

But according to officials, many experiencing homelessness won’t go there. Fogler said, “They don’t want to abide by the rules of masking and social distancing and in some cases of not being able to leave the shelter during the day other than for things like employment or medical appointments. And so, there are folks who are choosing to stay outside.”

She said, “It’s a very challenging issue. We have people who are in desperate need but we also have resources that are available to them that they’re choosing not to take advantage of.”

Even with available beds, there still wouldn’t currently be enough room for those struggling with homelessness in the area. “We’re kind of thinking that once it starts to get colder, people are going to start to maybe go back to where they came from. So, I don’t think that 140 number is going to stay that high as the weather gets colder,” said Fogler.

Warming shelters are still set to open at limited capacity with safety measures in place as temperatures drop.

But there’s still the public health and safety issue of tents on the waterfront. “We don’t want to disrupt someone who is tenting. But, the waterfront and other areas of the city they’re there for everyone to enjoy and we need to make sure that those areas are clean and available and safe and welcoming.”

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