Portland city councilors considering 3 shelter sites

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PORTLAND — With three sites under active consideration, a City Council committee is closing in on a recommendation for a new homeless shelter.

The Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee, led by Councilor Belinda Ray, spent Tuesday afternoon listening to details about potential sites on County Way, Commercial Street and Riverside Street.

On Tuesday, March 26, at 5:30 p.m., the committee will hold a public hearing before making its site recommendation to the full council.

The committee has stood firm on its recommendation of a 150-bed shelter offering services to guests that include laundry, storage and outreach for medical, mental health and substance use disorder.

After reviewing a list of 14 potential sites, the committee is now looking at about 10 acres of state-owned land adjacent to the Cumberland County Jail on County Way, which is off Congress Street in Libbytown.

Also on the list is a city-owned parking lot known as “Angelo’s Acre” at 431 Commercial St. between the Casco Bay Bridge and lower Park Street.

The third site is at 654 Riverside St., on 7 acres of municipal land on the western edge of the city, according to tax records.

The sites came into consideration after the city plan to build the shelter and service center on the campus of the Barron Center on Brighton Avenue met with fervent neighborhood opposition.

In making its final considerations, the committee asked Rob Parritt, the former director of the Oxford Street Shelter, now working as a consultant, to compile a list showing how each site could meet the needs of shelter guests in terms of access to public transportation, employment opportunities, proximity of service providers and emergency services, and other strengths and weaknesses.

City staff also sought input from service providers about the sites and how they measure up as far as serving shelter guests.

The consensus looks to be a lack of consensus, with each site drawing concerns even as advantages are noted.

Angelo’s Acre is closest to the most service providers, two firehouses, and jobs in the Old Port.

Yet its setting troubled service providers and police, including Amistad Executive Director Brian Townsend, who noted the waterfront setting could be a safety and weather concern.

“Our community has had enough tragedy associated with accidental drownings; it is hard to overlook this when considering that spot,” Townsend said in a Feb. 28 email.

The land at County Way, which could become part of a land swap to provide space for a new police headquarters, has already brought neighborhood opposition, and  Homeless Voices for Justice noted the site could bring additional stigma because it is near the jail.

The 654 Riverside St. site has no nearby medical providers and its distance from downtown Portland is considered a drawback by potential service providers. 

Fiona Mason of Preble Street said the site could appear as though the city was hiding its homeless population, while the practical matter of transportation is a problem.

“(It is) too remote; not within walking distance to much of anything,” Mason said.

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

A Commercial Street parking lot known as “Angelo’s Acre” is one of three homeless shelter sites under consideration by Portland councilors.

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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.