The city of Portland has secured additional overflow shelter space that should eliminate the need for families, including children, to sit in hard plastic chairs all night.

The city’s General Assistance office on Lancaster Street currently is used as a warming center for up to 75 people when the city’s 154-bed adult shelter on Oxford Street and a 75-bed overflow shelter at Preble Street are full. Over the summer, the assistance office also was used to accommodate overflow at the city’s Family Shelter on Chestnut Street.

Fire codes only allow the city to set up 16 mats on the office floor, so to maximize space and avoid turning people away, shelter staffers set up 75 chairs.

“At that point we just didn’t have any more space,” said Oxford Street Shelter Director Rob Parritt.

Tensions boiled over in early July when several families with children were sent to the office. Troy Jethro was so upset that children like his 5-year-old stepdaughter, Arianna, had to sit in chairs all night that he made a video inside the shelter, violating rules to protect the privacy of other people. He was issued a trespass notice, preventing him from returning.

Arianna’s mother, Chrissy Chavez, later testified about the family’s experience during a meeting of the City Council’s Housing Committee. She said the episode is what forced them to live in a tent for a month behind the Pine Tree Shopping Center on Brighton Avenue.

“I didn’t want to take my child out to a tent. But at the same time, I didn’t want my child sitting in a seat that was so hard, that she couldn’t even lay down,” Chavez said. “And because I disagreed, we were trespassed.”

Parritt said shelter policy changes were being considered before the family was given a trespass notice. After seeing an increase in the number of homeless families in June, Parritt said he approached new leaders at the Salvation Army about using their gym as overflow space. By early July, they had agreed to provide space to accommodate homeless families at no cost to the city, he said.


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