The city of Bangor has no unified plan to address the homelessness crisis. That needs to change.
Bangor City Councilors sit at their assigned seats ahead of a regular council meeting on July 10, 2023. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

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No city plan, not even a very good one, is going to solve the myriad issues contributing to homelessness in the Bangor area by itself. Not in the next year. Not in the next year and a half.

That is not a reason to let the city’s ongoing and future efforts exist independently without the structure of a unified plan. Quite the contrary.

So we welcome the draft proposal from Councilor Jonathan Sprague, discussed at a Bangor City Council committee meeting this week, that seeks to shape a 12- to 18-month plan for tackling homelessness in Bangor. We don’t see this as some sort of perfect, all-encompassing solution to address converging challenges like housing availability, economic hardship, mental health, substance use and others. But neither does Sprague, who rightly sees it as a conversation starter rather than a final product.

“There is no written plan of the city’s intentions for addressing homelessness,” Sprague said during a government operations committee meeting Wednesday. “I do not believe that this should ever have been acceptable.”

We don’t believe so, either.

Sprague has compiled a list of 30 items in a “Short-term Action Package for Addressing Homelessness.” Some of these action items involve continuing or building on existing programs and efforts, like the city’s new Community Action Team that responds to local crises and complaints without a police presence. Others seek to guarantee warming shelter capacity and overnight beds during extreme temperatures, set a goal that all Bangor children are “adequately sheltered and nourished” and consider short-term diversion strategies to try to prevent less people from slipping into homelessness.

All of this merits continued discussion and structured action from the City Council, which a definitive plan can help enable.

As Bangor Daily News reporter Valerie Royzman detailed, there appear to be mixed feelings about this proposal among city councilors.

“If you want us to have an overarching, 18-month strategy that we get behind as a council, then that document should be developed with a professional who understands what we may have missed and who can guide us toward the appropriate strategy,” Councilor Cara Pelletier said at the meeting this week.

To Sprague and Pelletier, we say this: Yes, and yes.

Yes, a cohesive plan is needed to most effectively and efficiently marshal the city’s resources and efforts. And, yes, the development of that plan should be guided by expert input. But waiting to start this conversation and develop this plan until that input or that new role materializes seems to us a recipe for inaction not unlike the delay in getting federal COVID-19 rescue funds out the door.

We tend to agree with Councilor Joe Leonard, who — as Royzman reported — liked the idea of an action plan, agreed with Pelletier that an expert should be involved and viewed the proposal as an evolving document. This perspective, it seems to us, offers a product path forward for the full council starting at its upcoming workshop and meeting on Monday. In short, Sprague’s document offers a mix of aspirational goals and concrete steps to achieve them. Setting those goals and outlining a path to meet them can start now, with refinements to come as the city works with experts.

We are cautiously optimistic about where this conversation can go, but feel some caution about language in the existing proposal, particularly what is described as a “great dilemma” in the discussion draft.

“If we develop a solid community plan to care for those in need in humane ways, and we execute it well, we will become an increasingly attractive community for more unsheltered people,” the discussion draft says. “Although Bangor is a service center for many things, it is highly unlikely that a majority of Bangor residents and businesses want this City to become a magnet for more homeless people, even if supportive resources were to be available.”

The concern over this “dilemma” is not a new addition to the debate about homelessness, and it is not helpful, either. As a community, we can’t prevent ourselves from helping others out of fear that it might make other people want to be treated well, too. Once again, that is a recipe for inaction.

City councilors should get a specific plan on the books to help address homelessness. But they, and everyone across the Bangor region generally, also should make sure we’re thinking about people experiencing homelessness as neighbors to help, not a faceless problem to manage.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...