The city of Portland released new details this week about why it decided to build a 200-bed homeless shelter in the Nason’s Corner neighborhood as officials prepared to address critics during a community forum about the project Saturday.

Opponents of the plans for a new homeless shelter next to the city-owned Barron Center on Brighton Avenue have argued that the city should instead build multiple smaller shelters in different parts of the city. Some also argue that if the city is intent on building a single, large shelter, then it should be in an area far from residential neighborhoods.

Critics also had said that the city failed to provide an analysis supporting its choices for a site and operating structure.

The city released this week the results of additional analyses of both the scattered-site model and other locations considered for the shelter. The release came days before Saturday’s community forum, which is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall.

“I’m looking forward to this opportunity for the community to do a deeper dive into the complex issues we’re evaluating as we look for a new way of providing these critical services,” said Councilor Belinda Ray, chair of the Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee. “This forum will be extremely beneficial to my colleagues and I and the community at large as we continue the process of evaluating the current staff recommendation for a new homeless services center.”

The city is looking to replace the 31-year-old Oxford Street Shelter in Bayside, which is housed in an old apartment building and auto garage. It has proposed building a new facility near the Westbrook border that would accommodate 200 people in beds, as opposed to the 154 people sleeping on thin mats on the floor on Oxford Street. The new shelter would be combined with a range of other in-house services.

City officials said that a single new shelter would cost about $4.7 million a year to operate, compared to $10.2 million to operate five smaller shelters scattered throughout the city. Those figures do not include development or acquisition costs. A scattered-site model also would present logistical challenges for staff trying to coordinate appointments and transportation, and find overflow space for when the shelters are full, according to the analysis.

The city also argues that scattered shelters already exist, pointing to the Kreisler Teen Shelter in Bayside, Through These Doors shelter for domestic violence victims, Milestone shelter on India Street for people struggling with substance abuse, the city’s Family Shelter in Bayside, Florence House for women on Valley Street and day services for the Amistad peer program in the West End.

The city also released a more detailed analysis of seven other potential sites in the city. Each site was evaluated based on site control and acquisition costs; site characteristics; zoning; council policy guidance; transportation; infrastructure; adjacent land use context; co-location advantages and historic preservation and environmental issues.

The city’s preferred site scored the highest, getting 40 out of a possible 45 points, because it is city-owned land and near the Barron Center, which has a large kitchen that could provide food for the shelter and laundry facilities that could service the new shelter. It also scored well in terms of transportation, especially since USM added a new bus line connecting its Portland and Gorham campuses.

Not far behind was a site at Forest Avenue and Read Street, which scored 37 points. Among the deficiencies was a lack of any available parcels that were either owned by the city or owned by a landowner willing to sell.

The analysis also includes a parcel on District Road off outer Congress Street that Nason’s Corner residents have rallied behind as their preferred alternative. The land is owned by the Portland International Jetport and designated for employee parking.

In an 11-page proposal submitted to the city, Nason’s Corner residents argue that the site is already zoned for a shelter – their neighborhood is not – and it is not located near any schools or residential neighborhoods. It’s also located near a bus line, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services Building, Spring Harbor Hospital and an opioid treatment clinic. And it has a Maine State Police barracks nearby.

“This, to me, seems like an incredibly palatable compromise for all parties involved,” Casey McCormick said in an email to city officials late last month. He also suggested the largely commercial area around the site could better absorb any negative impacts if the shelter failed. “Importantly, it also doesn’t carry the likelihood of throwing a large residential neighborhood like Nason’s Corner under the bus.”

However, the site scored only 28 during the city’s analysis. Staff said it did not meet the City Council’s guidance of not hiding the homeless or having adequate access to transportation.

“Of all sites examined, it would seem to most represent the problem of ‘warehousing’ the homeless,” the analysis said. “The location would be unlikely to benefit from any economy of scale from other city services or other providers.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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