Homeless shelter plan gets Portland council hearing

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PORTLAND — City concepts for a new homeless shelter were presented Tuesday at a hearing hosted by the City Council Health & Human Services Committee.

The hearing followed a presentation of what is envisioned as a 186-bed shelter, with 60 beds for women, to be constructed at an undetermined location.

“We are not staying in Bayside. I don’t know about other agencies. We don’t have a location picked out at all,” Oxford Street Shelter Director Rob Parritt said Monday as he met with Bayside residents at Back Bay Tower.

The concept calls for a shelter to be open 24 hours a day, instead of the evening hours now kept at the 203 Oxford St. building. On-site services include meals and laundry, as well as medical, mental health and substance use disorder services.

Details of the shelter plan are online at http://bit.ly/2xXn08j.

In June, the prospect of relocating a shelter off the city’s peninsula grew when councilors approved zoning revisions allowing shelters as a conditional use in business and light industrial zones throughout the city.

Part of the conditions include siting a shelter with day services no more than a half mile from public transportation lines.

The conceptual model of a large shelter with a wider provision of services also came into play after Councilors Belinda Ray and David Brenerman, with former Council Ed Suslovic and other city officials, visited two Boston-area shelters a year ago.

“In speaking with shelter operators, staff noted that the needs of emergency shelters have changed as the strategies for ending homelessness have changed,” city Planning Department Development Review Services Manager Barbara Barhydt said in a May 1 memo.

Guests at the Oxford Street shelter are required to leave each morning without any place to store personal belongings, then seek other services clustered in Bayside, including Preble Street.

The city would like to focus more on finding sustainable housing for long-term shelter guests, Barhydt said.

On Monday, Parritt noted shelter guests are asked to help create a plan to get them sustainable housing when they are admitted, and staff helps with placement when they can. The shelter serves about 220 people a night, he said last spring.

The city estimates a new shelter with services would save $500,000 in the current $3.4 million budget. Parritt said Monday a dedicated site with better security would also alleviate problems – not from the people getting services, but from those who prey on them.

The city’s current capital improvement budget includes $125,000 for shelter planning.

The larger, off-the-peninsula concept has opponents, namely those who support smaller shelters throughout the city and was to ensure shelter guests are not shunted off to the edges of the city without proper access to transportation and services.

Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swann urged a reduction in scale before the council vote in June.

“This city, including two different task forces I sat on, has pretty much unanimously endorsed the concept of scattered, smaller shelters that are fully integrated into different neighborhoods around the city,” Swann said.

In June, Mayor Ethan Strimling sought to limit the zoning revisions to within a 2.7-mile radius of downtown. That would have placed Huston Commons, the Bishop Street housing-first complex operated by Avesta Housing and Preble Street, at the periphery. He was the sole supporter of his amendment.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

A conceptual sketch for a new homeless shelter in Portland calls for 186 beds and expanded meal and health-care services.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.