Belfast manager sets record straight on tents for homeless

By Stephanie Grinnell | Jul 10, 2019

Belfast — 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.

Comments (14)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Jul 11, 2019 20:02

Maybe the Mayor has solutions ,seeimg as she has spent tax dollars going to Mayor conferences with other Cities whom have higher homeless populations then Belfast.



Posted by: Eric Schrader | Jul 11, 2019 15:16

Well Geoff, I guess the Republican Journal article left out very important piece of information, i.e. the possibility of a 70% reimbursement from the State. "If the city were to develop and follow their own guidelines, the city would be on the hook for 100% of the distributions it pays out, as opposed to the 30% currently". I don't think anyone would have known to go to the City's website and look for the full City Manager's letter to get this piece of information. I still think it would be interesting to see how the $ 65k was actually spent. That's not chump change.



Posted by: Geoff Facey | Jul 11, 2019 10:41

" If the City has spent the $ 65k, then why is the City looking at State guidelines for helping homeless in the summer months."

 

It's clearly stated in the City Manager's letter that the city must follow the states General Assistance guidelines in order to qualify for the 70% reimbursement it receives on General Assistance distributions.  If the city were to develop and follow their own guidelines, the city would be on the hook for 100% of the distributions it pays out, as opposed to the 30% currently.

 

You can read the full text of the City Manager's release here:

https://www.cityofbelfast.org/DocumentCenter/View/2710



Posted by: Eric Schrader | Jul 11, 2019 10:21

The Executive Director says "It's sad that people will criticize the city or other agencies for an inadequate response." then in conclusion, "It's shameful to criticize above-and-beyond efforts to help people in our community" Well, which is it? Inadequate response or above-and-beyond efforts"? It can't be both. I would say a tent and a sleeping bag would quality as an inadequate response. And why is it sad that "people" criticize the City, when the taxpayers of Belfast are paying through the nose to support the City budget, which by the way, was supposed to target a 10% across the board reduction, but never came close. And Kevin Riley, it doesn't take a Ph.D to see who is being targeted, since only 3 people had responded to another black eye for the City of Belfast.



Posted by: Eric Schrader | Jul 11, 2019 09:49

Hey Seth, it's very presumptuous of you to assume that people who comment haven't done anything to help? There are organizations already in place, in fact they seem to trip over themselves with cross purposes, which I've enumerated. I've helped a homeless woman here in Belfast that got dumped on the doorstep of the Belfast Harbor and the City didn't lift a finger to help her. I stepped in and found her storage, moved her belongings and put her up in my camper out of the 40+ degree overnight temps. A 501(c)3 is already in place with Aging Well in Waldo County with an affiliated group. I'm glad this article was run in the Bangor Daily News that forced the City Manager, Joe Slocum to address the issue, albeit very poorly and expose the "general assistance director, for which I suspect most people in Belfast never knew the position existed, including myself. He better be able to support where all the $ 65k went for "general assistance", but it will probably take him a month put his green eye shade on, pull the invoices and sit there with a calculator. I think you owe Ken Wall an apology for jumping to very rash conclusions.



Posted by: Kevin Riley | Jul 11, 2019 09:35

Ken,

Seth never mentioned anyone by name nor implied anyone here. His post was a very generalized statement.
Triggered much?



Posted by: Executive Director | Jul 11, 2019 09:28

It's sad that people will criticize the city or other agencies for an inadequate response.  It has been a long-standing issue about the problem of homelessness and the insufficient resources America is making available.  Where have these critics been hiding that they are surprised by the lack of resources?  Have they lobbied for adequate programs and staff to address the issue?  Have they worked hard (or supported additional city/state/federal spending) on the causes of homelessness?  It's shameful to criticize above-and-beyond efforts to help people in our community.  The real problem is how we set our priorities.



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Jul 11, 2019 08:54

Seth....that is their job which our taxes pay for into the City.  You don't know me and the five figures I donate back to the community and should feel ashamed for implying I do not care.  BTW...I used to be one of those homeless and worked very hard to stop the drugs and alcohol to get back on my feet.  Feed the homeless and sponsor meals at the Hope House.  I have that t-shirt!   I won't get to to pissy, but shame on you!

 

DO NOT be so naive to think helping those who choose the lifestyle can be helped out of it.  It is a homeless persons CHOICE.  It is called "hard work" and many homeless prefer to spend their time and money on substance abuse and not getting ahead.  Hell, why would they when they can scam people for free services.  Does the City require work for the freebees????  Put a value on what the City is giving to the homeless and require the homeless to work at twice minimum wage and charge the half the cost and I bet half of the homeless would choose not to get the freebee because it is no longer free.



Posted by: Seth Thayer | Jul 11, 2019 07:59

Perhaps the people with time enough to scream at the city over every little thing they do, could volunteer their time and energy to address the homeless problem.  Perhaps you could get on the phone, call some people, raise some money....find some neighbors willing to take in or house a family in need.  Just screaming at city officials to help isn't enough....perhaps you could offer your services, create a 501c3 on your own to help with the homeless problem, like Bob MacGregor did with the Waldo County Woodshed.  Don't wait for someone else to help...do it yourselves.



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Jul 11, 2019 06:51

Guess that was the point I was trying to make Eric.  This article demonstrates that tent hunting is more important then such a tax generating revenue source as the Armory.  Where are the priorities??????

It also shows your argument of local interests and the betterment of the City.  I suppose covering tents and the Cities involvement for homeless is far more important then such a huge asset going dormant as the Armory.



Posted by: Eric Schrader | Jul 11, 2019 04:45

The National Guard Armory is so far down the To Do List at the City, it could be lost forever. If that building stands idle for years, which is possible, it will turn into another Searsport Elementary School full of mold, mildew and other creeping crud. This building could be a multi-use facility that could include transitional housing and the Dash bus line could add a stop there. How about developing it into a state of the art Technology Incubator with 5G internet speed that will attract the young “techies” that will bring jobs to the City. This would be a great project for the so-called Economic Development Director if he wasn't spending so much time being the “airport manager” and the website guru.

Almost a year ago last August, an article appeared in the Free Press stating, “City officials only learned of the unit’s (National Guard) departure recently, which prompted a July 26 (2018) tour of the facility. Joining the walk-through of the building and compound with questions about its condition, capacity and history” were the City Planner, Tax Assessor, along with 2 Councilors and the City Manager. Belfast does not have a reversal clause, a provision written into the original purchase agreement through which ownership reverts to the municipality. Bangor, for example, used such a clause to convert a former armory into a city recreation center according to a National Guard spokesperson.



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Jul 10, 2019 21:17

What ever happened to the Armory??????



Posted by: Eric Schrader | Jul 10, 2019 19:42

A great opportunity for the Republican Journal to dig down into the facts and ask Joe Slocum for a detailed analysis of the $ 65,000 spent on "General Assistance Benefits" and while they are at it, ask for a detailed job description of the General Assistance Administrator and what they actually do on a day to day basis. If the City has spent the $ 65k, then why is the City looking at State guidelines for helping homeless in the summer months. They can set their own guidelines since the City is not seeking reimbursement from the state. I don't know about you, but sleeping in a tent on a hot, humid night somehow doesn't sound like a lot of fun for someone who became homeless with two children through unfortunate circumstances. It's not like they chose to be homeless, like some people in Belfast have done. He says "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". And just what might those collaborations entail? Who are the non-profits, churches and citizens? Aging Well in Waldo County, the Belfast Soup Kitchen, the Senior Center, Spectrum Generations?  If churches were involved, the likelihood that people would be left outside to fend for themselves is highly unlikely. There is an abandoned apartment building in the City right now that have been that way for years. What is the City doing to tap into State and Federal programs to develop transitional housing for people in need. As usual, Slocum is reactionary versus being proactive like a City Manager should be. The one good thing that the Bangor Daily News article accomplished was exposing the underbelly of the City's "general assistance program" or lack thereof.



Posted by: Domenic Ruccio | Jul 10, 2019 18:42

This would be a prima facia example of why confidence in the nation's media outlets is at an all time low.  In an age when there are so many outlets intent on creating propaganda rather than reporting facts in an unbiased manner, this is an example of what makes it almost impossible to separate purposefully misleading "fake news" from genuine, unbiased, factually accurate news.

 

It is fair to hold the Bangor Daily News' feet to the fire and demand an explanation as to how and why such a distorted version of the truth made it into print.  It is difficult not to surmise that their slant on this story comported with a bias in the reporters and editors at this paper that resulted in distorted and dishonest reporting.  This is exactly the sort of "reporting" that makes people lose confidence in news media outlets and opens the door for some to question the veracity of all news outlets, the end result being that everyone picks their own version of the "truth" that most closely aligns with their own positions.  This type of reporting is very unhealthy for a participatory democracy.



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