Portland seeks bidders for homeless shelter design

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PORTLAND — Intentions to replace the Oxford Street Homeless Shelter with a single emergency shelter away from Bayside were detailed Monday during a City Council workshop.

“Right now, we are just talking about a single emergency shelter,” Oxford Street Shelter Director Rob Parritt said at the outset of a 40-minute discussion where public comment was not accepted.

Those plans are also incorporated into a request for proposals for architectural services to be opened on Dec. 19. On Monday, city Health & Human Services Director Dawn Stiles said she expects a firm to be selected on Jan. 19.

The rest of the time-line for a new shelter has not been determined, but City Manager Jon Jennings said the search for sites for what could be a $10 million project will begin in the first quarter of next year.

Given its cost, Jennings said a new shelter could be a “public/private venture.”

The adult homeless shelter at 203 Oxford St. is in a three-story building that staff and city officials say is unsuited to its purpose and setting.

As the search commences for a new site, the shelter’s hours have been expanded to 24 hours a day.

In a press release Monday, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Jennings was able to reallocate $340,000 to open Oxford Street during the day through June 30, 2018, while hiring an additional outreach worker.

Grondin said Jennings will also add funding to keep day services at Oxford Street open in the fiscal year 2019 budget.

The RFP is looking for a firm to help design a one-story shelter with beds for 186 men and 60 women in a setting to include mental-health, substance-use and medical-care services, as well as housing placements.

Parritt said security for shelter guests is a key concern. A one-floor layout makes it easier to monitor activity in the building than what is now in use on Oxford Street.

“(We do) not want it to be an open-air drug market and easy site for predation,” Parritt said.

Zoning for a shelter site was expanded in June by councilors, and City Manager Jon Jennings allocated $125,000 for shelter planning in the current capital improvements budget.

Architects are asked to plan for a building that could serve and seat 200 people for meals, have 200 storage lockers and provide better building security than the current shelter.

The city estimates any new shelter with 200 beds would save at least $400,000 on the current $3.5 million in operation costs at Oxford Street, according to council packet information.

The most expensive shelter, which would include a second-story dorm and offices, would cost almost $3.1 million. A new shelter with beds and offices on one floor would cost $2.98 million, one with second-floor offices and a clinic would cost $2.93 million.

None of the scenarios include food service; all assume city-owned land will be used. Personnel costs remain constant at $1.9 million, with benefits around $650,000, but assume no cost for police as security. That is currently budgeted for $187,500.

The zoning changes allow shelters as a conditional use in business and light industrial zones throughout the city. The conditional uses do require a shelter with day services to be no more than a half mile from public transportation.

Jennings wanted to be clear no final decisions have been made, and the process will include public input.

“What we are trying to do here is create a facility that is very protective of our most vulnerable citizens,” he said. “We are not at the beginning, and we are not at the end.”

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

Portland Health & Human Services Director Dawn Stiles and Oxford Street Shelter Director Rob Parritt update city councilors on details of a new homeless shelter Monday, Dec. 11, at City Hall.

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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.