City Manager Joe Slocum released a statement today he calls “the truth about how the City of Belfast addresses the issue of homelessness.”

The statement, which also was posted to the city website and sent to numerous media organizations, is a response to a recent article published by Bangor Daily News that revealed an effort in the city to collect tents and other camping supplies for the homeless.

Slocum outlined General Assistance guidelines and efforts at the city level, as well as other organizations helping out the homeless population.

“During the summertime communities in Maine do not provide hotel rooms for the homeless,” he said. “The state General Assistance Office does not pay for hotel rooms in the summer unless it’s a medical necessity. There are people who can’t find housing anywhere and they either sleep in their cars or on the ground outdoors. The city of Belfast collaborates with local nonprofits, doctors, churches and citizens to try to make some headway with the problem of homelessness.

“As part of that volunteer effort, this group chose to look into the possibility of donated tents, sleeping bags and stoves to help people who don’t qualify, or who do qualify but can’t locate a housing opportunity within the financial parameters of the program anywhere.”

Slocum said the city is dedicated to helping the homeless.

“That effort was not to prioritize camping as our response to homelessness, but rather to offer it as something better than sleeping on bare ground or in a car,” he said.

The city spends about $65,000 per year on General Assistance benefits, according to Slocum.

“None of that money is spent on tents,” he added.

He criticized the news article, headline and accompanying graphic as “misleading,” “condemning” and “disparaging.” The headline read: “The best this Maine city can offer people who become homeless is a tent and camping gear.”

Slocum pointed out that “The picture is not from Belfast but certainly enhanced the condemning and false tone the headline intended to convey. If one wanted to make incorrect news, the ploy worked.

“National news sources picked up the misleading headline and photograph, adding their own inaccuracies and continued to paint our efforts to help those in need (in) our community in a misleading and derogatory way," he said. "None of these actions will deter our continuing dedication and effort to work together to help those in need.”

The city manager asked anyone with concerns or questions about the policy or city actions to call or stop by City Hall.

“You might come to a different conclusion about what the best we can do really is,” he said, playing on the article headline.

Slocum said the city has a full-time General Assistance administrator who works under state guidelines to help those in need. He said disqualifications for assistance are based on state regulations, which  must be followed if the city wishes to receive a 70-percent reimbursement. Those who do qualify, Slocum said, receive limited financial benefits that include food, personal and household items, heat, electricity and assistance with rent or finding a permanent housing situation.

The financial constraints make it difficult to find housing at times, he said.

“Every month we also have applicants who would otherwise be homeless if not for the financial assistance we provide for them, so we are working on the prevention side, too,” Slocum said.