August 14, 2018

Some think Portland’s proposed 200-bed homeless shelter is too big

Evolving history of serving Portland’s homeless population

According to a presentation by Rob Parritt, director of the Oxford Street Shelter, the history of emergency services for homeless people in Portland consisted of the following:

  • Summer 1987: Tent city in Lincoln Park

  • September 1987: City opens first emergency shelter with a 20-bed capacity

  • May 1988: City moves shelter to Alder Street, increases beds to 25

  • December 1989: Oxford Street Shelter opens with 50 beds

  • October 1994: Oxford Street capacity rises to 62 beds

  • 1995: City leases 197 Oxford St., adjacent to the main building. Day room and support services open due to increase in numbers

  • 1996: Capacity rises to 80 beds

  • 1998: Community asks city to provide temporary services for guests with substance use issues

  • 1998: Capacity expands to 108 beds

  • 1999: Capacity expands to 127 beds

  • 2000: Capacity expands to 154 beds

  • March 2004: Salvation Army overflow used regularly. Reach record high of 199: 154 at Oxford Street Shelter and 44 at SA

  • March 2005: Record number of 51 women at Oxford Street Shelter.

  • 2007: Preble Street opens Women's Shelter

  • 2010: Florence House opens; overflow for women opens

  • 2011: Oxford Street Shelter becomes co-ed again

  • 2012: Warming centers open

  • 2014: Warming centers phased out

  • 2017: City changes zoning ordinances to allow for additional locations in search of modern shelter facility. City expands Oxford Street Shelter to 24 hours.

More than a dozen residents of the Portland neighborhood of Nason's Corner told the Portland City Council they opposed a proposed 200-bed homeless shelter.

The Bangor Daily News reported that residents asked the council to slow development of the shelter, which is intended to break ground around March 2019. They asked the council instead to consider building several small shelters around the city.

Here’s what’s proposed

According to documents and news releases on the City of Portland's website, the city's goal is to develop a state-of-the-art, one-story, adult emergency shelter that would replace the Oxford Street Shelter. The new shelter would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week with on-site meals and a range of services including health and mental health care, substance use treatment, housing assistance, peer support, case management, employment assistance and more.

The current adult shelter on Oxford Street is leased, poorly configured and requires residents to vacate the facility every morning with all of their belongings, according to the city.

The building has three floors, which require almost double the number of staff who could oversee guests in a single-story building designed specifically as a shelter. It also has cramped sleeping space which necessitates floor mats rather than cots and utilizes a large area for sleeping in the eaves of the building.

The council's Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee is reviewing the location for the proposed homeless services center. There was a public hearing on July 10 and the committee is expected to discuss the matter again at its Sept. 11 meeting.

The location is on a city-owned parcel of land located on the corner of Brighton Avenue and Holm Avenue adjacent to The Barron Center and The Loring House.

The announcement of the location followed a year-long process in which the city examined open concept shelter models in Boston as well as in Maine to view current best practices, and presented initial concepts to the HHS and Public Safety Committee.

In June, the Bangor Daily News reported the new shelter, located miles from the downtown near the Westbrook town line, is meant to replace the cramped Oxford Street Shelter in Bayside.

At that time, City Manager Jon Jennings called the multimillion-dollar proposal a "game changer."


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