BELFAST – Belfast’s city leaders are trying to set the record straight after a newspaper headline got picked up around the country, that claimed the best the city could do for its homeless population was offer a tent and some camping gear.
“It’s hard to be characterized as a community that only throws tents at people, particularly when it hits the national level,” said Joseph Slocum, Belfast’s city manager.
Slocum said three or four donated tents have been given to homeless people, but it’s not their primary solution.
“One woman was thrilled to have a tent because she had absolutely nothing…if we’ve done everything we can do and that’s all we can offer that’s what we offer, but we don’t give up there, we don’t put somebody in a tent and say ‘see ya'”, said Slocum.
He said they have a full-time general assistance administrator that helps navigate what the state can contribute.
This time of year, he said the state won’t pay to put homeless people up in hotels unless there’s a medical need.
If they follow state regulations, Belfast is eligible for a seventy percent reimbursement for helping people with food or housing, but not everyone who asks for help qualifies.
“There’s situations where people live in Brooks and think ‘oh, Belfast is where I go for general assistance’, but no if you live in Brooks you have to go to Brooks Town Hall,” said Slocum.
Belfast does not have a homeless shelter, meaning city officials use the state’s funding and help from local non-profits to pay rent for those placed.
To help find a solution, the Waldo County Homeless Coalition began meeting last year.
Some of the members are religious leaders who assist those in need.
“It does seem that there’s more of an increased need recently,” said Rev. Joel Krueger, with the First Church Belfast, UCC. He is on the Waldo County Homeless Coalition. “I think there’s also more of an awareness on how much we are actually lacking in facilities.’
City officials said about 150 people seek general assistance a year in Belfast, and that they place those needing help in more than a dozen units a month.
The Waldo County Homeless Coalition will meet again on July 17.