Partnerships added to Portland proposals for homeless shelters

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PORTLAND — One planned emergency homeless shelter could become many, after city councilors on Tuesday were expected to continue to discuss how to replace the Oxford Street Shelter.

The revised plan that could add city partnerships with Avesta Housing and the Opportunity Alliance to the new model is not enough for District 3 Councilor Brian Batson.

“What I proposed looking at is two low-barrier shelters to go with the partnerships,” Batson said Monday as he prepared for Tuesday’s Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee meeting.

Essentially, there are few entry restrictions for adults at low-barrier shelters, most notably no residency requirements.

The meeting at City Hall included a public hearing before the committee led by Councilor Belinda Ray, who was joined by Batson and Councilor Pious Ali in a recommendation to the full council on how to proceed.

The revised model presented by city staff continues to plan for a low-barrier shelter on the grounds of the Barron Center on Brighton Avenue near the Maine Turnpike.

The size has been reduced from 200 beds to 150. Along with the shelter, Avesta Housing is developing a program to provide a 36-bed assisted living facility, a 30-bed housing-first facility, and a 15-bed intake center offering a maximum 14-day stay while the needs of guests are assessed and referred to other services. All facilities would be open to people 55 and older.

“Our initial plan is conceptual in nature and is based on our knowledge and research of homeless individuals who are older and our experience in owning and managing Assisted Living Facilities, Housing First and Senior Developments,” Avesta President Dana Totman said in a Nov. 20 memo.

The Opportunity Alliance has proposed a 15-bed center to provide mental health and substance use disorder services to residents.

“To achieve recovery, these individuals require a safe, supportive residence while permanent housing and linkage to community resources are established,” an Opportunity Alliance Nov. 16 memo said.

The costs and locations remain undetermined for the partnerships, while the city estimates a 150-bed shelter would cost $4.5 million annually.

First announced in June, the Barron Center plan has drawn support from city staff and Ray as an efficient way to serve homeless guests who come from the city and the rest of the state and county.

In studies and task forces dating back more than five years, the city has determined the Oxford Street Shelter is inadequate to properly serve homeless adults without families.

City Manager Jon Jennings said the Barron Center site has the advantages of nearby food service, health care and public transit. For more than a year, city staff have looked at the model of one shelter with on site medical services, improved security and storage and laundry areas for guests.

Shelter data indicates more than 1,800 individual clients were guests from Oct. 3, 2017, through Oct. 3, 2018. Of these, 286 were 55 or older.

While unsure how many beds should comprise two low-barrier shelters, Batson is certain about siting them.

“I am still unwavering in my opinion that a low-barrier shelter does not belong in that location or any residential neighborhood,” he said.

Batson said he would also oppose any amendment to a zoning map to allow a shelter on the Barron Center grounds. The site was not part of the zoning changes made in 2017 to allow shelters as a conditional use in business and industrial areas throughout the city.

Because of the availability of services on the city’s peninsula, Batson said it made sense for at least one shelter to be placed there.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Plans to replace the Oxford Street Shelter for homeless adults could include partnerships for specialty care with Avesta Housing and the Opportunity Alliance.

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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.