February 23, 2024

History in making, folks. The Bangor City Council after nearly 2 years, finally allocated some funding for some local organizations tonight. Some worthy organizations in the fight to solve homelessness received funding tonight: Fresh Start Sober Living and Penquis. This was a result of Penobscot County issuing funding to them yesterday. The County entered an agreement with the city of Bangor that the city would match their funding.

For the organizations that received funding: I am happy for them. They will be putting that money to work serving the people of Bangor by offering housing and support to those that need it most.

High-fives for doing the bare minimum

For the self-congratulatory manner in which Bangor City Council went about doing this: I am disappointed. This wasn’t some grand plan 2 years in the making. Council copied the homework of Penobscot County at the last minute. Council did the bare minimum. Thanks for finally doing part of your job, I suppose. But if you want me to pop champaign with you, forget it. Especially not on a night when residents gathered for a candlelight vigil to remember those who died because they were unsheltered. The fact that the city had half their money in June of last year and the green light to start spending makes every one of those deaths since that time more painful.

The story changes yet again

If you’ve been following my blog, you are aware of two exchanges I had via email with City Council Chairman Rick Fournier. In one of the emails, Mr. Fournier said that it was the plan since September to see what Penobscot County was going to do for Bangor organizations first. Turns out, that didn’t even add up at the time. Tonight, it seems, that Bangor City Council’s story has changed to make waiting on Penobscot County’s action the plan from the very beginning. Bangor City Council admitted tonight it sat on its hands for nearly 2 years waiting to see what Penobscot County was going to do for Bangor organizations.

Let’s chalk that up on the board of “reasons we didn’t do anything” as provided by the City Council, shall we?

Bangor City Council Presents: “We really wanted to allocate ARPA funds but…”

  • We were waiting to find a City Manager for 6 months, and then we ended up hiring the interim City Manager
  • We were waiting on the Final Rule instead of using the interim Final Rule that the U.S. Treasury told us to use
  • We were waiting to hire the Housing Specialist that we didn’t fund
  • We jointly decided with Penobscot County in September that we would wait until after November’s election to talk, even though we said back in October to the public we were starting talks that week
  • Now tonight’s re-telling of the plan that wasn’t a plan: We were collaborating with Penobscot County all along

Just when I thought I could be done pointing out how the Bangor City Council has had no plan for the past 19 months, they pull me back in. They need to stop digging this hole deeper. Rather than trying to rewrite history, they should try writing a PLAN for tackling our biggest challenge: housing.

I ask again: “Where’s the plan?”

While tonight’s awards are great, it should have been part of an overall plan to get the city to reach function zero in regard to homelessness. They are yet to schedule an ARPA meeting for housing. The top issue Bangor was already facing was made worse by the pandemic, and we’re haven’t seriously talked about how ARPA funds will solve that issue. To date they have not set a goal of solving affordable housing.

What is City Council doing? Some of them are bemoaning the fact that the local organizations haven’t brought forth a plan for them. Affordable housing is a Bangor problem. That means Bangor City Council needs to show leadership and get all the organizations that are working to solve homelessness together. Bangor needs to collect updated data about the problem and share it with all the stakeholders. Make a plan to solve this problem based on real data and put a price tag on it. Then fund that plan and execute it. These are human beings and our neighbors we are talking about here. What kind of city are we if we can’t make the health and safety of everyone inside our city limit our top priority?

While I’m flattered that citizens like us are considered the top of the organization chart, our powers are limited to electing council members and speaking for 3 minutes at a time at council meetings. But if there’s a hidden power I didn’t get the memo about: consider this a direct order to the Bangor City Council to flex its leadership muscle and commit to seriously solving the housing crisis in Bangor, Maine.

Assemble the organizations that are doing the work and empower them with making a plan. And unlike 2019’s housing report, fully implement it this time. You’ve got the funding and you’re out of excuses.