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November 13, 2023

Avesta, Preble Street team up on proposed housing for Portland's homeless

Photo / Peter Van Allen The site of the former Oxford Street homeless shelter in Portland may provide Site-based Housing First, under a proposal unveiled Monday by Avesta and Preble Street.

Avesta Housing and Preble Street have unveiled a proposal to build what's being called "Site-based Housing First" — permanent housing with on-site support services for chronically homeless people — where the former Oxford Street homeless shelter stood in Portland.

Avesta, a Portland-based nonprofit that operates 100 affordable properties, more than 3,000 apartments and two assisted living facilities, announced the proposal on Monday morning. 

The news comes at a time when Portland is grappling with a growing homeless population, with tent villages around the city. 

Avesta has secured an option agreement to purchase a half-acre parcel where the homeless shelter had been. The proposal calls for developing a mixed-income community consisting of two components — Site-based Housing First and multifamily residential. It would have between 30 and 50 affordable apartments.

“For almost 20 years, Avesta Housing has been providing Site-based Housing First homes in partnership with Preble Street to address chronic homelessness,” said Rebecca Hatfield, Avesta's president and CEO. “That service is needed now more than ever. We are committed to ending homelessness throughout Maine, and the Oxford Street development will provide dozens of safe, quality, affordable homes to people who are in most dire need of them.”

Rebecca Hatfield holding a hard hat in front of a building site
File photo / Tim Greenway
Rebecca Hatfield, president and CEO of Avesta Housing

The effort would need both city approval and funding to move forward. Right now, Avesta hopes to start construction in 2025. 

Both Avesta and Preble Street are based within blocks of the Oxford Street site. 

"As longtime members of the Bayside community, both organizations look forward to continuing to be community stewards and working with city staff, elected officials, and local residents," Avesta said in a press release.

July legislation

The effort would be one of the first to be created after Gov. Janet Mills, in July, signed legislation to create so-called Site-based Housing First properties designed to address homelessness.

Homeless encampments have been growing in Portland, including at this site near the Casco Bay Bridge.

“Housing First is a successful and cost-effective way to address the needs of people experiencing chronic homelessness,” said Gov. Janet Mills. “I'm proud that the biennial budget I signed this year fulfills a promise from my State of the Budget Address to adopt a Housing First model and will expand the number of Housing First units from 85 to approximately 500 across the state through important projects like this one proposed by Avesta Housing and Preble Street.”

Avesta and Preble Street have collaborated on similar housing properties in the past, including Logan Place, which opened in 2005; Florence House (2010); and Huston Commons (2017). Avesta owns and operates the properties, and Preble Street provides 24/7 onsite support services, harm reduction and crisis intervention.

The Oxford Street development would be a continuation of that partnership.

middle-aged man standing in industrial kitchen
Photo / Tim Greenway
Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street, in the production kitchen at the Food Security Hub in South Portland.

“Site-based Housing First is based on a simple concept — everyone deserves housing and the support necessary to maintain it. In the almost 20 years we have been running Site-based Housing First programs, we have seen time and again chronically homeless individuals with complex needs find safety and a place to call home,” said Mark Swann, Preble Street's executive director.

“With the current unsheltered homelessness crisis facing our state and the more than 150 people already on the waiting list for apartments at Logan Place, Florence House and Huston Commons, this project is one critical part of the solution to ending chronic homelessness in Maine.”

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