Portland considers seeding $50K for apartments for the homeless

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PORTLAND — The city is considering setting aside $50,000 for a so-called “housing first” apartment project for homeless people.

The City Council on Monday night gave first reading to a measure that will designate the money from the city’s Housing Trust Fund. The council must approve the move with a second reading and vote at a future meeting.

There is more than $724,000 in the fund.

If the allocation is approved, the city would issue a request for proposals from developers interested in pursuing construction, and the $50,000 would be in the form of a grant award to help offset pre-development costs, such as site location.

A city task force charged with developing a strategy for reducing homelessness in Portland delivered a report in 2012 calling for, among other steps, the construction of three, 35-unit apartment complexes for the homeless.

Mayor Michael Brennan reiterated plans to pursue more such housing in a multifaceted plan to combat homelessness unveiled last August.

The “housing first” model does not require tenants to agree to substance use or behavior standards, and often include on-site counseling and care services.

The model is built on the theory that at-risk homeless individuals are more likely to take their medications and adhere to counseling if they have stable housing. Many shelters or housing facilities require clients to be sober before being admitted, which “housing first” advocates say places too high a barrier for many struggling individuals to overcome.

According to a 2011 study by Thomas McLaughlin, University of New England associate professor of social work, a group of nearly 100 greater Portland homeless individuals with disabilities cost taxpayers almost $623,000 less while living in stable housing than they did while living on the streets, with cost avoidance coming primarily from more efficient use of medical care and fewer run-ins with police.

Two such facilities are currently operated in Portland by homeless service provider Preble Street and its partners from Avesta Housing. Those facilities are Logan Place and Florence House.

Preble Street and Portland Department of Health and Human Services officials have said when Logan Place opened in 2005, it ended three years of regular shelter overflows.

Since the recession began three years later, the city has again experienced an increase in homelessness, with as many as 470 people staying on the streets or in shelters nightly. That represents a jump from less than 300 in 2009.

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Jennifer Hudson, 24, was nearly six months pregnant and finally managed to rent a one-bedroom Portland apartment to share with her boyfriend in May 2013. They had been stranded in motel rooms and at the Oxford Street Shelter for a year while searching for a permanent apartment.