Portland councilors to visit Mass. homeless shelters

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PORTLAND — Three city councilors Wednesday will visit a pair of Boston-area homeless shelters.

“My hope is that the trip will help us to consider new ways to serve the vulnerable population in Portland,” Councilor Belinda Ray said Sept. 13 about the Health & Human Services Committee trip to Father Bill’s in Quincy and CASPAR Inc. in Cambridge.

John Yazwinski, president and CEO of Father Bill’s, on Monday said the councilors will see a regional approach to homelessness that extends from Quincy and Brockton to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Some root causes are similar to what is found in Portland, Yazwinski said.

“It is the housing costs in greater Boston that drives these issues,” he said.

The agencies shelter about 260 individuals and 133 families nightly, Yazwinski said, while emphasizing a “housing-first” approach for about a third of the clients.

“The other 60 to 70 percent are staying with us for a couple of months and then getting back on their feet,” he said.

The housing-first approach, whether in dedicated apartment buildings or units integrated into other housing, tries to get chronically homeless people settled, along with the medical, mental health and substance-use treatments they need.

“Everything we do in shelters we can do better in somebody’s home,” Yazwinski said.

Josh Wardrop, spokesman for Bay Cove Human Services, which operates CASPAR, declined comment on what the committee, chaired by Councilor Ed Suslovic, may glean.

The CASPAR website indicates the agency was established in 1970 to work with clients with substance abuse disorders and continues to offer treatment and care in shelters and residentially.

Portland has emphasized a housing-first approach following recommendations by a task force formed in 2011. Suslovic said Sept. 8 the city needs more, but financing and finding locations is a challenge.

“Those are tough projects to put together, there’s a reason we haven’t done more of them,” he said.

Existing housing-first developments include Logan Place on Frederic Street and Florence House on Valley Street. Avesta Housing is also developing a housing-first project on Bishop Street near Morrills Corner.

Rob Parritt, who directs the Oxford Street Shelter, on Sept. 15 said the committee trip is a way to learn about best practices in other communities. The shelter now serves about 200 individuals nightly.

Parritt said a housing-first approach is a better way to serve people, especially those who require individual attention for medical, mental health and substance-use issues.

“Someone who has been on the street may need daily visits for months,” Parritt said.

Councilor David Brenerman said he will only be able to visit CASPAR, but agreed with Suslovic and Ray that the visits could provide ways to discuss a more regional approach to combating homelessness.

“I think in other communities, there may be more rules for inhabiting shelters that Portland could be served by using,” Brenerman said.

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

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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.