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Sam Bullard is the co-program director of the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine and a volunteer for the Greater Bangor Housing Coalition.
As the leaves change and the apples grow ripe for the picking, plenty of people get excited for the fall season. Soups and sweaters, pies and pumpkins, costumes and candy; for many, these are the things which make autumn so enchanting. But under the mask of this magical season lies a haunting reality many Mainers face every year — the cold weather.
While some of us have the privilege of going home every day to a comforting meal and warm bed, numerous people are left to fend for themselves in the elements. Our houseless neighbors grow wearier as the outdoors becomes a more hostile environment to exist in. Limited access to shelters, a lack of warming centers and the absence of systemic change are leaving people stranded in the streets. Being outside during the cold season is life-threatening.
We are in the midst of a deepening housing crisis. As eviction moratoriums end and rent prices skyrocket, more people are finding themselves unable to stay in or even find affordable housing. Rental assistance programs ask their constituents to meet unfeasible standards. When they do meet those standards, many landlords simply refuse them anyway. Many landlords, city and state officials alike continue to stagnate and make no efforts to aid this crisis.
If anything, our officials are perpetuating the criminalization of our houseless neighbors. Police continue to sweep houseless camps and stop people from “unlawfully” seeking shelter when it may be the only place they have left. Public urination and defecation continue to have legal consequences even though the city of Bangor has failed yet again to provide public bathrooms, putting houseless people in an impossible situation. All this does is further entrap them in a cycle of oppression. How can we sit around and let this unethical criminalization of our neighbors’ existence continue?
Our city’s inaction on this issue and antagonism toward houseless folks are risking the lives of countless people. We need to act now before we lose anyone else. We need to push our governments to build better housing solutions and stop the housing market from exploiting us for their benefit. We need to create more options such as forming more warming centers, expanding affordable housing and removing barriers to renting and buying. We need to stop criminalizing the existence of our neighbors without walls and break down the harmful stigma our culture holds about them. We need a city government that knows how urgent this crisis is and respects the dignity of everyone in our city, housed and unhoused.
At 1 p.m. Saturday in Peirce Park next to the Bangor Public Library, the Greater Bangor Housing Coalition is hosting a rally called “Haunted by the Housing Crisis.” We welcome you to gather with us as we uplift the voices of our community and take action together. Help us teach Bangor housing is a human right.