Firefighters responded to a fire at 196 Union Street in Bangor on the morning of Dec. 5, 2021, that claimed the lives of three men. Credit: Lia Russell | BDN

Peg Olson is the chair of Faith Linking in Action. Inga Turner is the group’s co-chair. Jamie Beck is the president of Dignity First.

The members of Faith Linking in Action are standing with Dignity First as a voice for the people who were injured and died in the fire on Union Street. This is a tragedy that should never have happened. Our faiths call us to insist that the Bangor City Council enforce the ordinances regarding abandoned buildings and work towards increasing the availability of affordable housing in the city of Bangor.

The reality is people are dying.

The Bangor City Council needs to reexamine the statutes regarding abandoned properties, especially with the housing crisis happening right now and the turnover of inhabitable property, to ensure public safety and to enhance the enforcement of property integrity.

In working with the non-profit organization Dignity First, we have become aware that several Bangor buildings have been put up for sale but have not been taken care of by the sellers, who are frequently out-of-state investors. These Property Maintenance Codes are not always being met and the property owners appear to not be penalized for these delinquencies.

In light of the housing changes occurring over the past three decades, this section needs to be examined and addressed to ensure the safety of all persons who have contact with the properties as well as the at-risk neighboring properties.

Property owners need to be held to the standards set in the Bangor City codes. In the meantime, the city needs to create space for those who are unhoused to camp. There has always been, and always will be, pushback about allowing camping on public land.

Property owners and businesses do not like the appearance of areas previously inhabited by people who have no safe choice but to sleep outside. No amount of shelters or warming centers will fix the safety and dignity issues inherently found in communal space shared by people in active addiction, mental health distress, and trauma. Just as housed community members have conflict with each other, so do people in the unhoused community. People in the unhoused community do not have the privilege of their own space to seek safety and rest. They are forced into large, shared spaces if they do not want to risk freezing to death.

Allowing space for camping, while providing sanitation like portable toilets, running water, and trash removal, free wifi, and a place to charge small electronic devices like phones, in a place easily accessed by programs and organizations working with unhoused people to provide resources and housing navigation, could be a huge boon to bridge the gap while organizations like Dignity First are given the time and resources to create the much-needed housing through acquisition of placarded properties.

The Bangor City Council has been given an opportunity to make some real change and positively impact Bangor. We pray the council will make a merciful decision and respect the dignity and right to live of all the citizens who live here.