Aroostook County – A group of community organizations that meet regularly to collaborate
around the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in The County are sharing data
about the demographics of individuals experiencing homelessness in the region that tell a
different story than what many believe to be true. At the same time, they are ringing the alarm
as they work to find solutions on what is feared will be a crisis situation when the weather turns
colder later this year.
Aroostook County Homeless Stakeholders is comprised of social service agencies, healthcare
organizations, public safety officers, faith-based community leaders, housing officials, among
others. Recent data for the families and individuals currently living in local hotel rooms, who
are experiencing homelessness, paints quite a different picture than some of the recent
rhetoric in the community and on social media.
“The misperception is that a large number of people who are staying in local hotels, with
support through the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program, are from out of state,
unemployed and struggling with substance use addiction, but the data paints quite a different
picture,” said Shirley Caron, Aroostook County Regional Service Hub Coordinator, who works
closely with the stakeholder group. “The reality is that most are from Maine, have a source of
income or are actively looking for work, and less than a quarter struggle with substance
Of the 92 households 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
Efforts to connect those seeking employment with regional employers who are actively looking
for workers is ongoing and facilitated by organizations like ACAP, who have members of their
workforce development team, and partners at the Maine Career Center, on-site, regularly, at
the area hotels housing the largest number of individuals. Agency officials, here too, say that
stigma and misperceptions are standing in the way of getting people who need jobs employed,
and helping mitigate the local workforce shortage.
“Unfortunately, not having a mailing address, some individuals with a past criminal background
and other challenges are holding people back, and arguably holding businesses back across our
region,” said Heidi Rackliffe, ACAP Director of Programs. “Until we, as a community, address
this issue and help employers to open their minds, the crisis for both the individuals we are
trying to assist and business across our region will persist.”
The other looming challenge, perhaps an even greater one according to Rackliffe, is the lack of
affordable housing that, if the situation was different, would allow not only ACAP, but
Homeless Services of Aroostook who is operating at full capacity Sister Mary O’Donnell Shelter
in Presque Isle to get those experiencing homelessness into more permanent housing.
“In the fall and early winter of 2019-2020, when we first opened our Hope and Prosperity
Resource Center at ACAP, we were generally able to house individuals experiencing homeless in
under six weeks, now we are going on months and months – and even with an abundance of
housing vouchers – are simply unable to secure housing for the more than 100 households we
are serving both through the HPRC and those currently staying in hotels through the ERA
program,” said Rackliffe.
The situation is much the same for Homeless Services of Aroostook, another key member at the
Aroostook Homeless Stakeholder table. Currently, HSA has 40 individuals in their shelter, 25
housed in Sister Mary O’Donnell Shelter and 15 housed in the Aroostook Bridge Program. At
the end of 2021 the data showed they had assisted a total of 221 unduplicated individuals. This
year the numbers have dramatically increased, for the first 6 months they have already assisted
a total of 193 unduplicated individuals. The pre-admission applications have also increased this
year, for the months of May and June they received over 70 new applications for each month.
“The numbers don’t lie, we are in a crisis and the numbers of unsheltered individuals and
families are on the rise.” said Lisa McLaughlin, CEO of Homeless Services of Aroostook.
Caron, Rackliffe, McLaughlin and the more than 30 members of the Aroostook Homeless
Stakeholder group are working diligently on possible solutions to mitigate what they see as a
looming homelessness crisis on the horizon.
Devoid of any intervention within the next six months, more than one-third, 36 of the
households currently housed in ERA-supported hotel rooms, will have expired the number of
months they are eligible to be in the program and will essentially be without a roof over their
heads. Beyond that, in the course of January, February and March 2023, an additional 27
households will be terminated in the program.
The Aroostook Homeless Stakeholders have been looking into the possibility of establishing an
overflow congregate shelter to accommodate the large numbers. The goal is to develop a
County-wide solution before the cold winter months are upon us.
Among the partners they are having conversations and working with include MaineHousing,
and the City of Presque Isle.
About Aroostook Homeless Stakeholders
Convened initially in 2017, Aroostook Homeless Stakeholders is a local collaboration committed
to coordinate to preventing and ending homelessness in Aroostook County and is open to
anyone who wants to be part of the solution, learn more, or has insight to share. The group was
convened to identify long and short term strategies to improve access and coordination of
services. The group of more than 50 members was instrumental in identifying the need to add
a low barrier shelter option to the area’s only overnight homeless shelter. Members of the
stakeholder group include Aroostook County Action Program, Aroostook Mental Health Center,
Caribou Housing Authority, Cary Medical Center, Catholic Church, City of Caribou, City of
Presque Isle, Community Cares, Community Health and Counseling, community members
(including those with lived experience with homelessness), Congressman Jared Golden’s Office,
Healing Hearts Counseling, Homeless Services of Aroostook, Hope and Justice Project, Houlton
Regional Hospital, Life by Design, MSAD 1 Adult Education, Northern Light Health AR Gould
Hospital, Pine Health Center (FQHC), Presque Isle Housing Authority, Senator Angus King’s
Office, Senator Susan Collins’ Office, State of Maine- Department of Corrections, Town of Fort
Fairfield, United Veterans of Maine, United Way of Aroostook, and the University of Maine at