Health & Human Committee Members Bicker at Finish Over Shelter(s)


Member of the H&H Committee City Councilor Brian Batson at Tonight’s Committee Meeting. Councilor Pious Ali is a Member and Councilor Belinda Ray is the Chair.

Kenneth A. Capron, of Memory Works,  Made a Presentation on the Use of a Cruise Ship for a Shelter.

Not Everyone Attending The Meeting Found it as Riveting as Some Did.

Councilor Nick Mavadones Attended the Meeting That Lasted 4 l/2 Hours Tonight.  He Just Defeated Joey Brunelle is his Re-election Bid by 714 votes on November 6, 2018.

“We need to decide tonight on the model we want.  The model is key so we can decide who is the population we are serving,” demanded Chair of the Health & Human Services Committee Belinda Ray earlier this evening. She was obliquely referring to a call from conservatives to require patrons of shelters to be residents of Portland specifically; a change in a longtime policy contrary to that. In an unprecedented move to this blogger, all members of the Council attended the meeting, straw votes tightly grasped in their hand.

Ray made it clear to the other two members of the Committee, the other members of the city council in attendance and the  Mayor that was her agenda.  Period.  “We can’t decide on the location until we know the model.” Koch (pronounced Coke)  loving Jon Jennings nodded his approval when Ray looked to her mentor from time to time.

At the outset of the meeting, several potential partners on the shelter project presented their credentials and expertise as to what they could contribute to the project.  Most councilors expressed interest in partnering with them and possibly Preble Street.  However, Ray said she preferred to work with only the two presenters at tonight’s meeting:   Joe Everett, Chief Program Officer for the Opportunity Alliance as well as Dana Totman, of Avesta Housing regarding “speciality” shelters in which they could be helpful.  “If Preble Street wants to build its own low barrier women’s shelter, that’s fine with me.  We won’t preclude them from doing that,”  said Ray, trying to dismiss its involvement in the shelter debate. Councilor Batson reported he’s talked to Preble Street’s Donna Yellen and she is interested in becoming a partner.  Executive Director Mark Swann is on sabbatical currently.

Councilor Cook:  “This is not just a Portland problem and we should not continue to provide a statewide shelter.  We want to spend less, not more.”  Somewhere along the line the number of proposed beds has been reduced below 200.  “I support between 100 and 125 beds,” said Cook.

Councilor Batson who is a professional health care provider said that 150 beds would not be sufficient.  He’d like to see between 175 – 200 beds.  “That works,” he said.  Batson does not support one shelter and said he wanted to keep open the option of two shelters.  “We have amazing services on the peninsula,” he said.  This statement was made as the frustration of Ray became more and more visible at the lack of consensus among councilors.

Batson comfortably stood his ground against Ray’s demands and said he’d like this matter to be returned to the Committee because “there are more stones to be unturned. The conversation is on-going,” he said.   Ray persisted:  “We have to settle the model issue tonight.”  (It was past 8:30 pm).  Then Mayor Strimling piped in:  “The Committee needs to make its recommendation and bring it to the Council.  The matter needs a public hearing.”    “We’ve had years of public comment,” said Ray. “I’m determined to vote tonight.”

Although location was not the focus of the meeting, former Police chief and assistant to the city manager, Michael Sauschuck said that about thirty sites have been determined to be options for the shelter.  Several of them are on the Portland waterfront – probably because they are city owned and not in residential areas.  One is the Amythest Lot on the waterfront which city manager Jon Jennings recommended several years ago be converted into a public park with transient docking.  Former chief of Portland Police Michael Sauschuck was continuing his audition to replace city manager Jon Jennings eventually as the moderator tonight.

Batson said that since he’s in the minority, he’ll work on his own proposal with the assistance of city staff.  “I want a public discussion.”  Ray responded:  “City staff can’t search every “whim.”  Batson responded:  “Whim” is an insult.

It was unclear where Councilor Pious Ali stands on the shelter issue. Councilor Cook volunteered to work with corporate counsel to prepare a resolution for the record stating that a majority of the councilors, through a straw poll, prefered the one shelter with several dedicated facilities, model.

“I don’t mind if Councilor Batson prepares his own proposal for the Committee, ” Ray said, after a 4 l/2 hour meeting.

note:  Ed Gilman, communications director of Mercy Hospital, said in an email to this blogger that the Hospital expects to make a decision on the sale of the State Street property after the first of the New Year.  No more detail than that!