Bangor city councilors decided to give $2.77 million to Penobscot Community Health Care to support the expansion and renovation of the Hope House, one of the city’s two adult homeless shelters.
The money will allow the Hope House Health and Living Center to add 12 beds, bringing the shelter to its pre-pandemic capacity of 66 beds, and add four or five “flex beds.” The project will improve security, infection control, kitchen facilities, group meeting space and wraparound services, according to the funding application. The expansion will also grow the shelter’s current 9,187-square-foot building to more than 13,000 square feet.
In addition to shelter beds, the Hope House on Corporate Drive in Bangor has 48 transitional housing units and a primary care clinic that offers recovery and mental health services. It’s the city’s only low-barrier shelter, meaning criminal background checks, income verification, program participation, sobriety and identification are not requirements for a client to stay there.
Bangor city councilors voted 4-2 on Monday to use city money to fulfill Penobscot Community Health Care’s $2.77 million request using Community Development Block Grant and pandemic relief funds the city has in its arsenal.
The city can likely purchase two vans for the shelter using $90,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds, City Manager Debbie Laurie said. The group can also apply for $200,000 in forgivable funding from the Maine State Housing Authority. If the agency receives the full amount requested, that will leave about $2.47 million for the city to supplement in pandemic relief money, which is the largest award the city has granted thus far.
The relief money comes from the more than $20 million lump sum the city received after Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021. The city has been slowly giving away chunks of money to various local organizations in recent months and had about $11.5 million left to allocate as of last week.
Aside from adding beds, the expansion will increase the shelter’s bathrooms from three to 10 and add five showers, according to PCHC’s application. The project also includes plans to expand the kitchen, which provides about 1,700 meals per week, and add two intake rooms where staff can meet with clients to assess how their needs can be best met.
The expanded footprint will also allow the facility to provide a larger dining area that can be used as overflow if the shelter is over capacity, be a warming or cooling center in extreme weather, or be a space for group meetings and activities.
While councilors generally expressed support for what the shelter provides the city, Councilors Rick Fournier and Jonathan Sprague voted against the request, as they felt the city should not shoulder the agency’s multimillion-dollar request alone. Instead, they said, the state should chip in.
“I think this is a worthwhile endeavor, but if the city uses ARPA funds to fully fund this, we absolve the state of some of its responsibility,” Sprague said. “The state should be taking a much harder look at how to keep this facility going.”
Councilors Clare Davitt and Cara Pelletier, however, said the Hope House needs financial backing now and supporting the shelter that provides essential materials and services to people who are homeless is what the city first said it wants to devote ARPA funds to.
“The state isn’t stepping up to what it needs to be doing, but we can’t keep waiting for it,” Davitt said.
Bangor’s funding award comes about two months after Penobscot County Commissioners agreed to give Hope House $2.55 million in county pandemic relief funds to expand a program that helps people transition from living in the homeless shelter to permanent housing.
That expansion will include the addition of 10 new transitional housing units, in which tenants pay rent for single-person rooms, at 179 Corporate Drive.