The Star-Herald

ACAP to establish new program aimed at decreasing youth homelessness

This story has been updated.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — With new grant funding secured, Aroostook County Action Program is working to create a program that will connect homeless youth to stable housing and other community services.

Along with the Bangor-based Shaw House, ACAP received $1.58 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Homeless Youth Demonstration Program. ACAP will create a new Housing Stability program to provide homeless youth with housing vouchers to affordable apartment units. 

Beginning this summer ACAP will hire coaches to support the program, reach out to local landlords to obtain vouchers and begin identifying homeless youth in need through various community organizations. Once youth receive housing vouchers, ACAP will connect them to programs dedicated to higher education and workforce training. 

ACAP is developing the program in response to a greater number of homeless youth seeking services within their organization. Out of all of ACAP’s clients who identify as homeless, one third are between the ages of 18 and 24, the target age for the new grant funding, noted Jamie Chandler, ACAP chief operating officer.

Family instability, the lack of relatives to stay with, mental and behavioral health issues and low-waged jobs have been some of the factors behind youth homelessness in Aroostook County, Chandler said. ACAP hopes to help community partners identify statistically how many youth experience homelessness so that a greater amount of services can become available.

“[Youth homelessness] has definitely become a challenge for young people and is an issue that our community needs to be aware of,” Chandler said. “One thing Aroostook County does not have a lot of right now are resources to specifically help young adults who are homeless.”

ACAP is just one of several local organizations hoping to expand those services. Earlier this year Northern Lighthouse, Inc. announced plans to start a case management program dedicated to helping homeless youth. 

As the Housing Stability program begins, ACAP plans to continue partnering with Homeless Services of Aroostook. Since April 2020, ACAP has helped 73 individuals obtain emergency shelter after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter and Aroostook Bridge low-barrier shelter to reduce capacity. Those individuals were first sent to a temporary shelter at UMPI’s Wieden Gym, which closed prior to the fall semester, and now stay in rooms at a local hotel.

Lisa McLaughlin, general manager of Homeless Services of Aroostook, said that ACAP’s future investments could help decrease the number of people in need of shelter.

“Working with youth to prevent homelessness could help keep our numbers down, particuarly at Aroostook Bridge. As younger individuals obtain the skills needed to prevent homelessness, they could have the resources to have a better quality of life,” McLaughlin said.

Chandler said that as more people in Aroostook become aware of youth homelessness, she anticipates that ACAP will increase their partnerships with community organizations such as Homeless Services and Northern Lighthouse.

“We want to work with them to make sure youth have stable housing and work and are set up for success,” Chandler said.

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