Just weeks ago, David Williams and his wife had a roof over their head. But then, their landlord nearly doubled the rent on their Old Town apartment, and they couldn’t afford to stay. Now, they’re trying to find a way out of Bangor’s largest homeless encampment.
“Our landlord came to me and said, ‘I’ll let you stay if you give me $1,400,’ and that was impossible,” Williams, 55, said. “We lost everything because we had no way to move it. What else could we do?”
Williams called Terry Dinkins, pastor of Bangor’s Mansion Church, whom he had met previously through a mutual friend. Dinkins loaded as many of the couple’s belongings as he could into his SUV, then brought them to Tent City, Bangor’s sprawling homeless encampment on the city’s west side behind the Hope House Health and Living Center.
Maria Pounds, Williams’ wife of 12 years, has severe mobility limitations and stays at the encampment in a borrowed, unusable RV without heat or power. Williams sleeps in a nearby tent so his regular nightmares, caused by post-traumatic stress disorder, don’t wake his wife.
This isn’t Williams and Pounds’ first bout with homelessness. But Williams said it’s noticeable how much more serious Bangor’s homelessness problem has grown since the couple was last unhoused. He said he’s fearful living in Tent City amid rampant drug use, and he doesn’t know where he and his wife will go as winter creeps closer.
“Everything has changed for the worse and it’s bad,” he said. “I’ve only been here five days and I see it. There are needles everywhere. I’m scared to walk barefoot. I have two doses of Narcan in my tent just in case.”
Williams and Pounds previously lived in an encampment on the Bangor waterfront under the I-395 bridge until Bangor police Sgt. Wade Betters helped them get the Old Town apartment, Williams said. The state’s Bridging Rental Assistance Program, through which Williams and Pounds had to contribute 40 percent of their income toward their monthly rent, helped the couple afford the $725 rent, and they lived there for three years.
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Originally from Long Beach, California, Williams moved frequently during his childhood because his father was in the military. He came to Maine 25 years ago from the Washington, D.C., area to be with his older brother. He had worked as an assistant to a master electrician for three years, he said, after earning an associate’s degree.
“I should’ve stayed down there where I had a job and a college degree,” he said. “Now, my full-time job is taking care of my wife. I didn’t anticipate this.”
Williams is calling on the city to help keep the Tent City encampment clean and work with people to connect them with housing and other resources, rather than force people out of the encampment. Bangor has lacked a strategy to rein in growing homelessness, but the city last week announced plans for an extensive encampment cleanup this fall, and there’s work getting started in the region to make it easier for the homeless population to access services.
Williams said he tried to get a bed in the Hope House, but the facility is full. He’s working with a case worker now, he said, to see what options are available.
“Here we are, and I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Williams said. “Winter is coming, and I’m at a loss. I’m scared to death around here.”