PORTLAND — Emergency homeless shelters are now allowed in business and industrial zones throughout the city, following a unanimous City Council vote Monday night.
Shelters are allowed as a conditional use and seen as a step forward in improving how the city helps the homeless population.
“I think this opens the door to other opportunities. It does not proscribe specifically where there will be other shelters,” Councilor Nick Mavodones said during the public hearing and debate that took almost two hours.
The conditional use allows shelters with on-site services and “suitable laundry, kitchen, pantry, bicycle storage, and secure storage facilities.” Councilors also rejected an amendment by Mayor Ethan Strimling to restrict the zoning changes to within 2.7 miles from downtown.
Emergency shelters must also be no farther than a half mile from public transportation, or a quarter mile if day services and additional access to bus lines are not provided. New shelters must also provide better security.
Strimling said he continues to be concerned about isolated clients. He cited the shift of offices of the state Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Labor to near the Portland Jetport to show how people can be left without access to essential services.
Councilors, including Brian Batson, said added restrictions were not needed this early in the process, especially because directors of city social service agencies supported zoning changes.
“Everything we have heard so far seems very promising,” said Brian Townsend, the executive director of Amistad, which provides peer support for people with mental health and substance use disorder issues.
Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street, said the shelter and his agency are now operating in realms that were not intended when they opened. He also urged councilors to look beyond the concept of a large-scale shelter to providing services in smaller settings.
“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.
Outside the Oxford Street Shelter June 2, clients said a new location could be beneficial, even if it’s farther from the peninsula.
“This place is obsolete,” Trevor Jeffery said.
Saundra Sue Friend said getting into town for her job in the Old Port would be fine if she were in a more secure environment.
“I’d love it if it were away from here,” she said as she complained of thefts and bedbugs. “I can walk six miles if I have to.”
Tim Milliken and Frank Elliott have stayed at Oxford Street for intervals, and said access to services is critical. Both said more than one new shelter should be built, but its location away from Bayside was acceptable.
“Every night, I have to deal with the drunks,” Elliott said, adding he would soon be moving to his own home in Rumford.
Oxford Street Shelter residents Saundra Sue Friend, left, Tim Milliken, Trevor Jeffery and Frank Elliott agreed June 2 that new homeless shelters are needed in Portland, even if they’re not downtown.