ROCKPORT – Knox County Homeless Coalition staff members say they see triple and quadruple the number of calls, and a shift from the invisible couch-surfing form of homelessness, to what they call urban homelessness.

Human beings in Knox, Lincoln and Waldo Counties are increasingly forced to sleep outdoors, even as the weather begins to get colder, say Becca Gildred, Director of Development, and Molly Feeney, Director of Social Services, for both the coalition and Hospitality House.

“They are struggling to survive not week to week, but day to day,” said Feeney.

Hospitality House, the area’s homeless shelter, is filled to capacity with a 14-week wait list. They estimate there are 200 families and 650 individuals experiencing a housing need. About 165 children are without stable housing in Knox County.

The coalition works to place those in most dire need in hotels and motels, but at this point all available emergency housing is maxed out and staffers are even providing people with tents to help them cope with living outdoors.

Evictions are on the rise since the pandemic-related moratorium was lifted. In addition, rents in the area are high, and demand for housing is strong. In some cases, people outbid each other looking to move into the Midcoast, driving rents up to as much as $1,600 for a one-bedroom apartment.

These rentals are too high to be paid for through government subsidies, which have limits in place to assure affordable, rather than luxury, accommodations are being acquired. In this area, there is a lack of affordable housing, and the increased influx of new people buying houses and spending on apartments is creating gentrification.

Coalition staff do not believe the spike in need has yet reached its peak, so things may still get worse.

They hope to secure $4 million in American Rescue Plan dollars to fund five projects from Rockland to Isle Au Haut to help bridge this gap.

The Knox County Commissioners have been considering how to distribute $7.7 million received from the federal government in ARP funding. Several area towns and advocates of increased broadband infrastructure have made requests to the commission for the funding as well.

The coalition’s plans for the funding creates 50 affordable housing units as part of five projects. They argue now is the time to take a big leap forward on an issue that has been ignored for too long.

“This is not going to be resolved with a Band-Aid,” Feeney said.

They argue this is a regional issue and not a matter of pitting communities against each other.

“Homelessness does not adhere to town lines,” Gildred said.

They also argue that creating more affordable housing will help local employers who are struggling to find workers. As housing around Rockland increases, and working-class people move further out into the surrounding towns, there are fewer workers to provide services for local businesses.

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