The Hope House Health and Living Center on Corporate Drive in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Bangor’s largest homeless shelter has added 20 beds to accommodate some of the people who were staying at the Ramada Inn before it stopped serving as a shelter at the end of last month.

The Hope House shelter on Corporate Drive is now filled with sleeping pods that can house around 50 people in semi-private areas that provide increased privacy, and allow for social distancing and easier storage of guests’ belongings. The shelter, run by Penobscot Community Health Care, was previously dormitory-style, and had to reduce its capacity from 66 to 30 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

A hallway at the Penobscot Community Health Care-run Hope House shelter in Bangor after renovations. Credit: Courtesy of Penobscot Community Health Care

The Hope House’s expansion will make up for some of the shelter space lost when the Ramada Inn stopped serving as a shelter on New Year’s Eve when federal funding ran out. The expansion also comes as Bangor continues to reckon with a growing homeless population, highlighted early last month by a fire that killed three homeless men in an abandoned home on Union Street.

The shelter’s expansion and renovation incorporate lessons Hope House leaders learned from using the Ramada Inn as a shelter, namely that outcomes are best for homeless individuals when they are afforded more privacy, Penobscot Community Health Care spokesperson Kate Carlisle said.

Precipitated by an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus, advocates for the homeless across the nation are increasingly calling for a shift to more private housing for those without shelter.

Bed space in a “pod” at the newly renovated Hope House homeless shelter run by Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. Credit: Courtesy of Penobscot Community Health Care

“Not only did they stay healthier longer in a pandemic, but it also restored some dignity and agency to our guests,” Carlisle said.

In addition to the new pods, the Hope House renovations included changes to the dining room to allow for more social distancing and the addition of more showers in the bathrooms.

While the shelter has been planning the changes since September, the renovations were completed between Dec. 27 and Dec. 31, as the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 took hold. The Hope House closed during that period, and several residents stayed at the Ramada.

While the expanded Hope House is now housing some of those who stayed at the Ramada, other former Ramada guests were connected to live with family and friends before the facility closed, Carlisle said.

About 24 percent of the 180 people who stayed at the Ramada from September 2020 to December 2021 are no longer homeless, according to Penobscot Community Health Care data. Some 11 percent went into a rental, 8 percent to an institutional setting and 5 percent to transitional housing.

While the Ramada will no longer be a hotel shelter, PCHC is working on an arrangement with Ramada management to keep about a dozen rooms available in the case of an outbreak at Hope House.

Several other Bangor institutions, including the Shaw House youth shelter and hospitals, would also be part of that agreement, Carlisle said. The entity experiencing the outbreak would provide staffing in the Ramada as those who are infected isolate.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated which entity would provide staffing at the Ramada Inn in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak.