April 24, 2019
Recent financial trends have not been kind to some organizations serving homeless youth, especially those in rural Maine. Programs and youth shelters in Rockland, Skowhegan and Rumford have all closed over the last twelve years.
With fewer resources, teens in rural areas have had to face a tough choice: stay within the community they know or move to an unfamiliar city that might offer more support.
Thomas Chalmers McLaughlin, Ph.D., co-director of the Social Work Center for Research and Evaluation, recently weighed in on the issue as part of a weeklong series “Finding a Way” on Maine Public.
The decision to move can be necessary for some teens to get needed services, such as case management, counseling and shelter, which are already limited in many parts of the state.
McLaughlin, who conducted a survey of homeless youth in rural Maine, told Maine Public that despite their circumstances, many teens did not want to leave their surroundings.
"The community knew them and they knew the community," McLaughlin said. “So, it might mean that they would couch surf, move around and work at different places. All of them seemed motivated to stay in their school—motivated to stay connected to their community."
McLaughlin was also quoted by the Maine Sunday Telegram in an article about the record number of homeless students in Maine. He said it is difficult getting an acurate account of the number of homeless youth in Maine.
“They’re not showing up at the food pantry, they’re not going to General Assistance,” McLaughlin told the Maine Sunday Telegram. “They’re relying on friends and community to keep them where they are.”
McLaughlin also conducted studies on programs that provide long-term stable housing for adults who are homeless. He recently spoke with the Portland Press Herald about “Housing First” a philosophy that emerged in the 1990s and has gained popularity as a cost-effective way to reduce homelessness.
The philosophy calls for people to be given a safe, stable place to live and to be offered support, whether it’s for a substance use disorder, mental illness, physical health or employment training.
McLaughlin’s studies have shown that housing the heaviest users of emergency shelters and other emergency services saves money.
“It’s cheaper to support people in housing than it is to maintain them on the street through shelters, jails, police calls, emergency room contacts and ambulance runs,” McLaughlin said.
Some of the most dramatic savings were in use of emergency services, since newly housed individuals were more apt to use community-based services rather than emergency rooms and ambulances.