BANGOR, Maine — In the many years that Mike Andrick has embarked on cold January nights to count the city’s homeless, he has never come across more than a handful who are outdoors instead of hunkered down in a shelter.
He hopes that number never gets higher.
Andrick, program manager at Hope House, took to the streets with a handful of other caseworkers for Bangor’s homeless on Wednesday night as part of state’s annual Point-in-Time homeless survey.
The first part of the count is easy. Andrick counts the number of beds occupied at Hope House. On Wednesday night, that number was 86. Other shelters, including the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter and Manna Ministries, add in their bed counts.
The harder part, Andrick said, is finding people who are not at shelters.
“We hit all our spots, the places where we know people stay,” he said. “In the summer, fall and spring, there are usually 30 to 50 people sleeping outside. In the dead of winter, it’s only a handful.”
Andrick said he and his colleagues came across a couple of active campsites on Wednesday, but overall most of the homeless were off the streets.
“Some folks are pretty hard-core and will stay outside no matter what,” he said. “I think the fact that we’re not finding many is good in the sense that they are finding somewhere to go.”
The homeless data are not as accurate as they could or should be, however. Dennis Marble, executive director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, said urban areas are typically the face of homelessness, but rural homelessness exists, too, and those people are not necessarily being counted.
“A lot of our numbers are skewed to more populated areas,” he said. “It’s true that people experiencing homelessness come to Bangor because of the services, but there are people gutting it out in other areas. If we can’t count them, we can’t get funding to provide services.”
The annual survey is coordinated through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a way to gather data about certain homeless demographics. The numbers then are used to determine how much funding HUD awards to each service area. Last year, Maine received about $10 million in homeless funding from HUD.
The full statewide numbers will be compiled and sent to HUD within the next month.
Last year, 885 homeless people were counted across the state. The biggest geographic areas were Portland and Bangor. Of that total, 43 percent suffered from several mental illness and 26 percent suffered from chronic substance abuse, according to the Maine State Housing Authority, which administers most of the state’s federal homeless funds.
Nancy Fritz, director of homeless initiatives for MaineHousing, said the annual Point-in-Time survey is important, but she noted that it’s only a 24-hour sample. In 2009, for instance, 7,100 individuals stayed in a Maine homeless shelter for at least one night.