Bangor City Hall is seen Thursday. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

Bangor kicked off the first of several meetings Tuesday aimed at gathering community feedback on what to do with $20.5 million it received from the federal government for COVID relief.

The meeting was the first formal step the city has taken to decide how to spend the money it’s received under the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed last year.

Bangor received the second half of its funding package last month via the U.S. Treasury, which disbursed $350 billion to state and local governments in economic aid during the pandemic.

A handful of city staff and city councilors held Bangor’s first neighborhood-style meeting at the Boys and Girls Club on Davis Road on Tuesday night to gather suggestions for what to do with its federal funding.

Members of Penobscot County Cares, a coalition of Bangor-area mental health and recovery treatment providers, also attended.

Penobscot County Cares has advocated since last fall for some of the money that Bangor and Penobscot County, with its $29.5 million package, received to build affordable and transitional housing and improve access to substance use recovery and mental health treatment.

Michael Tuller, the president of the nonprofit Bangor Friends of Affordable Housing and a member of Penobscot County Cares, said that a “housing first” approach was most effective in eradicating homelessness and addressing the opioid crisis.

Once people are housed and have a fixed address, it’s easier for providers to find them and address their other needs, like mental health treatment, Tuller said.

He listed homelessness, substance use disorder and lack of access to mental health treatment as the most pressing issues facing Bangor residents.

“We’ve got to have a sea change, a change of thought,” he said.

He also touted recent initiatives like Bangor’s enrollment in Built For Zero, a national homelessness outreach program, as proof that the city was making strides to rethink its approach to homelessness.  

Cathy Osgood, who is also a member of Penobscot County Cares, said she was at the meeting to ask the city to consider funding more mental health treatment and substance use recovery options, citing her son Nick’s 18-year battle with addiction and difficulty accessing mental health support.

“The waiting list for services is so long,” she said, adding that substance use disorder was a side effect of untreated mental health problems.

The neighborhood-style meeting is one of four such meetings that Bangor will hold through June 9 to collect feedback from residents. The city is also hosting two town halls on Wednesday and June 15, as well as two Zoom virtual meetings on June 7 and June 8.

Bangor also sent out an online survey on Tuesday, city manager Debbie Laurie said.

City councilors and staff will then take those suggestions into consideration and establish funding priorities, with the goal of publishing a budget plan by the end of October, Laurie said.

Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.