Late last night, the Health & Human Services Committee reached a compromise that brought bickering between its members to an end – for now, anyway! The controversy surrounded the city’s effort to replace the rented Oxford Street Shelter because it’s inefficient and out-of-date as well. Neighbors in the Bayside area have long sought to shut it down somehow.
Since the rejection of the Barron Center location by residents of that area, represented by Councilor Brian Batson, other issues have intensified:
How many shelters should be built and should the Preble Street Resource Center be one of the two already committed partners in this project. Councilor Batson supported multiple shelters and the inclusion of Preble Street.
However, Councilor Belinda Ray, District 1, did not support either. But, since the Committee’s last meeting on November 13, 2018, compromise has been reached.
After several hours of public testimony, Councilor Batson said he could support the single model with the three partners who gave presentations at the meeting. Previously Avesta Housing and Opportunity Alliance had been the two partners who would provide speciality shelters in addition to the single model shelter.
Donna Yellen, Acting Executive Director of Preble Street Resource Center, testified before the Committee: She reported there is a need for a low-barrier specialized women’s shelter. “The increase in substance use disorders and human trafficking makes safety concerns for women far greater than in the past,” Ms Yellen told the Committee.
In return, the city will “provide an acceptable parcel of land in a mutually acceptable location at no cost to Preble Street. Preble Street will undertake the design, development and construction of a new specialized shelter. Preble Street will have to explore additional funding sources that could include federal and state shelter funding.” Ms. Yellen said these are draft remarks that have not yet been voted upon by the Preble Street Board.
During the public comment segment, Jeremy Simoneau, who is a full-time chef at a popular restaurant in the Old Port, said: “I can’t afford to live in Portland. I grew up on Munjoy Hill struggling. I’m still struggling.” Numerous people testified on whether or not they preferred the single model with three speciality shelters or not. One woman, in her 80’s with “all of her marbles” said being in such a diverse population at the Oxford Street Shelter was a real disadvantage for her. “I’ve had my bag stolen eight times,” she said. It was all a mixed bag.
The work on selecting sites needs to intensify as none have been chosen so far. Portland taxpayers will not be responsible for any of the cost.
Councilor Batson thanked all of the people who testified. “It can’t be easy.” A resolution by the three member H&H Committee was passed anonymously reflecting the essence of the above discussion. The resolution directed the city staff to proceed in its hunt for suitable locations, for the three acknowledged partners and with a capacity of up to 150 beds. Additional partners may be added as the process proceeds.
(Executive Director, of Preble Street, Mark Swann, is on sabbatical and is expected to return in January of 2019.)
For more background information on the subject, please visit post herein dated November 13, 2018.