Committee releases grant funding recommendations for Portland social services

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PORTLAND — The committee in charge of reviewing which agencies and projects should get federal community development money will present its final recommendations to the City Council March 8.

The city expects to dole out about $2.1 million in Community Development Block Grant money for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Of that, almost $786,000 will go to social service agencies for programs targeted at helping low and middle income neighborhoods and residents.

More than $1.3 million is earmarked for development activities in the city, including sidewalk repair and infrastructure improvements to nonprofit facilities. Also this year, a local restaurant is being recommended to receive funding to improve their facility. The project is considered an economic development project which will result in job creation. The funding has in the past been reserved exclusively for non-profits.

Hot Suppa!, a breakfast and lunch restaurant located on Congress Street in the West End, would get more than $62,000 to help purchase new kitchen equipment which will allow for longer hours of operation and job creation. The committee is also recommending $25,000 in funding for Momentum and Local Sprouts to create Bomb Diggity Bakery and a related program that would help mentally disabled people learn to bake and create art.

Local Sprouts Cafe and the bakery are expected to open at 645 Congress St. this spring.

For the second year the CDBG Allocations Committee used a points system to determine what applicants should receive funding. There were 18 applications submitted for development activity money this year. Thirteen are recommended for funding.

On the social services program side, 32 applications were submitted and 14 programs are recommended for funding by the committee. There are no new programs recommended for funding, except the Preble Street food program. That program, funded at $50,000, will replace soup kitchen services provided in the past by St. Lukes and Wayside.

Preble Street took over control of the St. Luke’s weekend service, which happens at Preble Street. This month, Wayside will no longer lease Preble Street to provide the soup kitchen, and instead will provide food services in various neighborhoods focused on families. As a result, Preble Street will take over lunch and dinner soup kitchen at its building.

Wayside requested $57,000 this year to run its new program and is recommended for $31,541. Food programs are considered “basic needs” and are reviewed separately from other social service applicants by the CDBG committee.

Of the non-basic need applicants, eight programs funded last year are not recommended for funding this year, including Amistad’s peer support program, The Compass Project and the East Bayside “Finding a Common Language,” a translation program.

The Peaks Island Children’s Workshop also did not qualify for funding. It did not last year either, and the island is not considered a qualifying neighborhood, but the City Council in the past has voted to fund it.

Recommended for funding are the following programs: the Police Department’s Community Policing program; Southern Maine Agency on Aging’s Safe and Independent Living program; Catherine Morrill Day Nursery; Cultivating Community; the city’s Behavioral Health program for the homeless; Frannie Peabody Center; and People’s Regional Opportunity Program’s Senior Volunteer Program.

City Manager Joe Gray is expected to finalize his recommendations this week. He told the committee at a meeting Friday he did not expect his recommendations to differ much from those of the committee.

Gray did say he would recommend the city fund a new business assistance grant program through the Portland Downtown Corporation instead of CDBG funds. That would allow $100,000 to be freed up for a van that would pick up inebriated and mentally ill individuals downtown and bring them to the Milestones shelter on India Street, to the soup kitchen or to notify police or emergency medical services if the person needs to go to a hospital.

The program also incorporates a foot patrol. It is a collaboration between the city, the Portland Downtown District, Mercy Hospital, Milestones and Preble Street.

“It would really assist the downtown business community with an issue that is making it difficult for retail and commercial tenants,” said Gray.

City Health and Human Services Director Doug Gardner said the goal of the program is to create relationships with the people the van would come in contact with, connect those people with appropriate services if they so choose and to address concerns from businesses downtown.

The City Council will hold two public hearings on the CDBG recommendations; March 8 at 5 p.m. at City Hall Council Chambers and March 22 at 7 p.m. at Council Chambers. The council is also expected to vote on recommendations at the March 22 meeting.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or