by Kathreen Harrison
Maine is suffering from an acute affordable housing shortage, and this is the number one cause of homelessness for significant numbers of Mainers – both locals and newer arrivals – according to Becca Gildred, Director of Development for the Knox County Homeless Coalition (KCHC). The Coalition wanted to bring this housing shortage and its implications home to Mainers, and raise some much-needed funds at the same time, so they came up with a unique plan to do just that.
They lined the pathways of picturesque Camden Village Green with lanterns on the bitterly cold night of November 8-9 and invited community members to claim a space – pitch a tent, maybe – for the Coalition’s 2nd annual One Night Without a Home fundraising and awareness-raising event.
“There is so much homelessness in rural Maine – but it is hidden,” explained Ms. Gildred. “People are couch surfing, living in cars, living without running water, and heat. The homeless in Knox, Waldo, and the northern part of Lincoln County – the areas we serve – are 50% kids. There are 389 people either looking for housing through the KCHC or participating in the programs we run to help them after they’ve found housing. And it’s hard to focus on what you need to do to move forward with your life if you’re sleeping in a car. The homeless in rural Maine don’t look any different from anyone else – 30% have post-secondary degrees – they are tough, resilient people, but they need housing.”
A primary purpose of the Night Without a Home event is to help people begin to understand what homelessness feels like, but Ms. Gildred is quick to point out that sleeping out in Camden for one night is nothing like what a homeless person really experiences. “One night is very different than being without a home day in and day out, with no end in sight.” Participants were required to raise at least $100 for the KCHC in order to join the overnight group on the Village Green. As of November 8 in the late afternoon, $36,214 had been raised, and the Green was filling with tents. Last year participants slept out during a torrential rainstorm. This year low temperatures challenged the participants. KCHC’s guidelines include the caveat that if participants need to bail during the night, they should do so. “Even if someone doesn’t make it through the night, they will have learned a little of what it means to be homeless in Maine.”
To find out more about KCHC visit homehelphope.org or give them a call at 207-593-8151.