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ACAP Message to the Community on Rental Assistance Program

To our Aroostook County Neighbors,

It is not our agency’s regular practice to address hearsay or focus on anything to detract from the great work our team members across Aroostook County are engaged in to help our region’s vulnerable families and individuals gain stability and become more economically secure.  But, the current misinformation being spread about our work, of late, warrants the record be set straight.

Yes, Aroostook County Action Program is the local administrator for the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program.  No, it is not ACAP’s money, as has been stated, but rather funding – with specific guidelines and restrictions from the U.S. Department of Treasury that we administer in our County on behalf of MaineHousing, the recipient of the program dollars here in Maine.  We have been tasked with administering this program County-wide, as have our sister-CAP Agencies in their respective regions.

If we are doing anything locally to administer this program differently than anyone else in Maine, it is this: ACAP, in partnership with other regional social service agencies, has conducted significant local awareness and outreach to connect people to this resource - especially County senior citizens on fixed incomes and families with children who meet the program income eligibility guidelines, but simply cannot afford to make ends meet at this time.

In this process, we have helped circulate more than $17 million dollars directly into the hands of more than 685 property owners (landlords) across Aroostook County. These are small business owners who have bills to pay and mortgage payments to meet. Whether you agree or disagree with the need or scope of this program, the reality is that the funding was directed to our area and we have done better than many at ensuring it gets to the people who qualify and are in need across our region.  Had we not administered the funds, another agency – likely not local and community-based – would have.   

We field calls daily from people across Aroostook County, some in tears – most who have never reached out to us for assistance before – asking if there is anything we can do to help? The sheer numbers and level of exasperation of those calling us has only grown, especially since January of this year when home heating and energy costs increased greatly, along with every other household expense due to the inflationary costs that have been crippling to those reaching out.  With a limited number of tools available to help, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program has been the only lifeline for many.

Here’s the data of how funding, allocated by the Federal Government for this program, has been directed in Aroostook County.  Of the 8,206 individuals assisted by ACAP in any version of rental assistance, since the first program launched in April of 2020:

  • 2,015 or 24.5 percent have been children under the age of 18
  • 1,161 or 14 percent have been over the age of 60
  • 248 individuals or only 3 percent have accessed the program(s) and used the benefit to support hotel stays due to inability to access other housing and/or no available beds at the region’s only shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness

So – let’s put this into perspective.  The 248 individuals (adults and children) in Aroostook County, supported through Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Funding, residing in area hotels across the region, not just Presque Isle, over 27 months represents a very small percentage of those assisted through this program.  That number includes 15 households who accessed the program to support stays in hotels after two tragic fires in Caribou and Houlton earlier this year that effectively left families homeless.  It also represents individuals who stayed for only a few nights and a significant number that ACAP has helped rehouse.

Let’s focus on the current numbers, again on the population of individuals experiencing homelessness who are being sheltered in hotels across Aroostook County.  Of the 101 individuals currently residing in County hotels under the ERA program, only 12 percent are from out-of-state, and 23 percent identify as having substance use addiction. More than half, 54 percent, have a source of income, and 32 percent are actively looking for employment.

Speaking of employment, we are actively working with individuals experiencing homelessness, staying at hotels and other facilities, to get jobs.  Even with all of the currently unfilled positions County-wide, unfortunately, stigma and bias often get in the way.  The same can be said for our efforts to help individuals find more suitable, long-term housing – although the shortage of available, affordable rental units in Aroostook County is a real thing. Working with individuals to find employment and housing, to improve their lives and to be more self-sufficient is what we do at ACAP. 

I would be remiss if I did not say – and have stated as such at publicly a number of times over the past two years – that the issue of homelessness in Aroostook County has reached crisis level.  The fast approaching end of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and coming winter months should be cause for concern to all of us as a community.  We at ACAP, and many others through the Aroostook Homeless Stakeholders, are working with state and local leaders to find solutions.  The alternatives are as limited as the challenge is great.

Now, the allegation that our Agency is somehow involved in creating this crisis by importing or bussing individuals experiencing homelessness from away in to Aroostook County, exacerbating this situation, is categorically false, and frankly inflammatory.  Over the past four years ACAP has spent $1,177.24 on 27 bus tickets for customers who turn to us in need.  Everyone of those bus tickets was with a departure from Aroostook County to points elsewhere and all of them for people who we vetted as having exhausted all potential local opportunities and a bus ticket to search for opportunity elsewhere was a last resort.  This is true for both people from the local area and those who found their way here from elsewhere.

The issues of mental health and substance use are very real across the country and right here in The County.  Our team members, working in all of ACAP’s nearly 50 programs, experience this daily.  We are thankful for our partners County-wide who provide services to assist individuals struggling with these challenges. They would be the first ones to tell you that there are not enough services or funding available to come close to meeting the needs of our community.

There is no room for the political divisiveness and rancor that permeates our society to distract the critically important work that needs to get done to address the pervasive issues noted here. Our efforts at ACAP, and with our community partners, are focused on finding solutions to these challenges, as well as the very real ones we know the families and individuals living in Aroostook County will face in the coming months as the temperatures drop.

We do not expect that the information, including facts and data presented here, will change the hearts and minds of those who will believe what they believe about the work we do and the communities and people we serve.  As unfortunate as that may be, it will not deter us from moving forward and doing the necessary work that needs to get done.  Those efforts, as they have been in the 50 years ACAP has served The County, will be focused on mobilizing our people and communities.

Jason Parent

Executive Director/CEO

Aroostook County Action Program