Portland mayor advocates for former employer in social service funding discussion

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PORTLAND — It will be four weeks before city councilors vote on the proposed annual allocation of social service grant funds.

But there will be plenty to think about after Monday’s 90-minute hearing on the Community Development Block Grant budget, including a pitch from Mayor Ethan Strimling for funding for the agency he used to head.

In a three-hour meeting at City Hall, councilors were presented with comments from Lucinda Pyne, who led the nine-member CDBG Annual Allocation Committee; City Manager Jon Jennings, who amended the committee recommendations, and Strimling, who hopes to amend Jennings’ recommendations when the budget comes up for a vote April 19.

The question of how to allocate $1.9 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants for economic development and social service funding largely showed the depth of need compared to the paucity of funding in the hearing that followed.

Pyne said the committee endorsed alterations made by Jennings, which include shifting $100,000 work on sidewalks on Preble Street to help pay for playground renovations at Dougherty Field in Libbytown.

On the social services side, Jennings shifted allocations from five grant recipients while adding $100,000 for the Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement, or HOME Team, operated by the Milestone Foundation on India Street.

He also added $59,000 to help help long-term homeless shelter occupants find stable housing, and $20,000 to fund operations at Florence House, a shelter for women on Valley Street.

Strimling said he will propose two amendments that will shift at least $250,000 from CDBG allocations to the general municipal budget in order to fully grant the $26,000 requested by Florence House, $40,000 requested by the Preble Street Resource Center, and add $10,000 more to HOME Team funding.

Those steps could be made by shifting funding for long-term guests at the shelter back to the general budget, and Strimling said he would also like to shift another $200,000 now allocated for community policing and requested for mobile medical outreach services for the city’s homeless. Jennings has recommended $34,000 in funding for the outreach services.

The CDBG funding could then be used for services and English language courses for immigrants at the YMCA and Learning Works. In 2016, Strimling recused himself from the CDBG vote because he had been executive director of Learning Works before he was elected.

On Monday, he became an advocate for the program, which is not currently receiving CDBG funding.

“I know this program intimately, I ran it for almost 20 years when I was CEO of Learning Works,” he said.

Strimling also wants to allocate $90,000 to fund Greater Portland Health’s medically assisted recovery program, which treats homeless opioid users. GPH requested $150,000 and was not recommended for funding by Jennings or the allocation committee.

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.