Portland social services debate: Child care vs. help for the homeless

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PORTLAND — Borrowing $3.4 million to move the Department of Public Works from Bayside to Canco Road was approved for a second time during a brief City Council meeting Monday.

Also during the meeting that lasted less than an hour, councilors heard comments on the $4 million budget to fund social service and economic development programs, largely through federal grants.

Mayor Ethan Strimling recused himself from the budget discussions because of his prior work as executive director of Learning Works. The nonprofit, which provides educational opportunities to disadvantaged youth, receives grant funding for English language instruction courses.

Councilors took no action on the budget proposals by City Manager Jon Jennings, developed in collaboration with the four-person Community Development Block Grant Annual Allocation Committee. A second public hearing will be held March 28 at 5 p.m., preceding a council vote.

Committee Chairman Maxwell Chikuta said the revisions made by Jennings had committee support. The largest source of budget funding is almost $1.8 million in Community Development Block Grants, which is combined with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants of more than $989,000.

Local funding from the city Housing Trust Fund adds more than $468,000, and income from two existing programs adds $325,000.

Some of Monday’s discussion centered around the CDBG social services budget, where City Manager Jon Jennings reduced the allocation to the Catherine Morrill Day Nursery from $90,000 to $50,000 to provide more funding for the Homeless Outreach & Mobile Engagement, or HOME, Team that assists chronically homeless people in the city. 

Bob Fowler, executive director of the Milestone Foundation, which operates the HOME Team, said the work is vital.

“I see them bring people in, look them in the eye and treat them with humanity,” he said.

The funding to Catherine Morrill provides vouchers for families in need of child care in order to work, attend school or treatment for mental health or substance use disorders.

Michelle Belanger, an assistant director and lead pre-K teacher at Youth & Family Outreach, a Bayside nonprofit, asked councilors to restore funding recommended by the CDBG Committee.

“Child care is a foundational need for social stability,” she said. “This $90,000 has the potential to serve hundreds of children.”

The second bond vote on whether to borrow $3.4 million to “develop, renovate and equip” 5.1 acres of land at 250 Canco Road, as well as four adjacent acres, was required because public hearings before the first vote, taken last year, were not properly advertised.

The city agreed to buy the land last summer. The former Pepsi Cola distribution center at Canco Road and four acres on Quarry Road will be combined with land and buildings at 212 Canco Road to house all DPW operations now going on in the Hanover Street area in Bayside.

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

Portland City Councilor Nick Mavodones serves as mayor pro tem Monday after Mayor Ethan Strimling recused himself from deliberations involving Community Development Block Grants.

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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.