Portland’s homeless first in line for new housing

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PORTLAND — Dawn Wade said she loves the practical element at her new home in Huston Commons.

“There is no more hurry up and wait, no line for the toilet, showers or lockers,” she said May 4.

Wade is one of 30 new residents at the 72 Bishop St. apartments built as a “housing first” project to create stability for chronically homeless tenants.

“This is a great opportunity; I’m glad to see so many people getting off the streets,” said Carl Boucher, who provides peer support for clients at Preble Street.

Wade was one of the first to move in after struggling for seven years to find stable housing.

Preble Street Associate Director Jon Bradley said the apartments are now 50 percent occupied, and will be filled this month.

Joe Meyers, a Vietnam veteran who endured homelessness after losing an Allen Avenue apartment two years ago, kidded Bradley because the televisions had not arrived. Outside, contractors were putting finishing touches on the building and landscaping.

“If you ever slept on the ground, it will soak the energy right out of you,” Meyers said, turning serious.

Huston Commons, named for a former Preble Street employee, was developed and is owned by the nonprofit Avesta Housing, and operated by Preble Street, and the Portland Housing Authority.

Housing first is a simple principle that people can best be served by providing reliable housing first. Huston Commons is the first such Avesta property built since the Florence House opened on Valley Street in 2010, Preble Street Chief Development Officer Elena Schmidt said in a May 1 press release.

The original housing first building built in the city by Avesta was Logan Place at 52 Frederic St. While Mayor Ethan Strimling said he would like to see five housing first buildings in the city, Bradley said there are challenges to the goal.

In order to build at 72 Bishop St., Avesta first needed a zoning change to allow for the housing density. Some funding for Huston Place came from $455,000 in low-income housing tax credits passed on by the Maine State Housing Authority from the Internal Revenue Service in 2015.

The tax credits are designed to raise equity from developers. Loans from the Bank of Boston and Gorham Savings Bank, and a grant from Washington, D.C.-based NeighborWorks America also funded the project.

“Getting services is the biggest challenge,” Bradley concluded about developing housing first projects. Huston Commons is staffed 24 hours a day, and employees also help tenants get to outside appointments. Along with mental health and substance use disorder care, tenants are also facing exacerbated medical problems as they age.

Despite his joke about TVs, Meyers lives in pretty spare quarters, with a kitchen, bath, table and single bed in his efficiency apartment. The kitchen means he can cook for friends again, and the roof over his head is essential.

“If you have base housing to go to, it is probably the No. 1 thing in any situation,” he said.

Huston Commons is close by where Meyers used to live, and to a bus line that can get him where he needs to go.

“I like it out here, it is less congested,” he said.

Wade remained emotional about her new home.

“I can’t stop crying,” she said. “It means everything in the world to me, a new chance in life.”

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

Joe Meyers sits in his Huston Commons efficiency apartment May 4. The Vietnam War veteran said he looks forward to cooking for friends in his new kitchen.

Preble Street Associate Director Jon Bradley and Carl Boucher, who provides peer support, said the stable housing at Huston Commons provides the basis to help 30 tenants with medical, mental health and substance use disorder problems.

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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.
  • Mainer1

    Houston Commons will be destroyed in a year, the neighbors will bear the brunt of additional drugs, begging, harassment. Just another invitation for all America’s homeless to come to Portland. Stop being a sanctuary city and making hard working Mainers foot the bill!

    • Woody

      What do you suggest? Drowning them?

  • Mainer1

    Make it a stipulation that the residents cannot harass or beg for money.