A community forum Saturday between city officials and residents appeared to do little to ease concerns about the impact a new homeless shelter could have on the Nason’s Corner neighborhood in Portland.

Hundreds of people showed up at Hannaford Hall on the University of Southern Maine campus to hear from City Manager Jon Jennings, Assistant City Manager Michael Sauschuck and other city officials about how the site near the Barron Center emerged as the city’s top pick for a $10 million, 200-bed shelter.

A public hearing of the City Council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee in July drew about 200 residents who booed and shouted at city officials. At Saturday’s forum, people were not allowed to ask their questions in the general meeting, and instead were required to confine them to eight different workshops set up on various topics, such as safety and security, the future of homelessness, and the faces of the homeless.

Many at the forum expressed frustration at the workshop format.

“I would have loved to hear all the other questions,” said Dylan Ney, a resident of the neighborhood who chose to sit in on the security workshop. Some residents wondered whether their concerns were being heard and whether they had the power to stop the project. Others said the city’s process in evaluating different sites for the shelter was flawed and that officials may be trying to solve a problem they don’t have the resources to fix.

“We are getting no answers. We are asking the same questions and getting the same non-answers,” said resident Joan Murray.


“I feel we do a lot of talking, but we just don’t get the answers,” said Susan Wilder, another resident of the neighborhood.

The city started working on the project two years ago, with the idea of replacing the Oxford Street Shelter in the Bayside neighborhood, which has been plagued by increasing substance use, untreated mental illness and crime. Oxford Street can accommodate 154 people who sleep on thin mats on the floor and must vacate the shelter with all of their belongings during the day. The new shelter would offer a range of services, including meals, health and mental health care, substance abuse treatment and employment help.

The city studied seven other locations. The sites were evaluated based on factors such as acquisition costs, environmental impacts, transportation availability and zoning issues.

The city concluded the Nason’s Corner site rated the highest because it would be built on city-owned land near the Barron Center, a city-owned nursing home, which has laundry facilities and a kitchen large enough to provide food to the homeless shelter. It also rated high on transportation availability.

Opponents of the Nason’s Corner site are pushing for a site on District Road off outer Congress Street on land owned by Portland International Jetport, arguing the commercial area around the site would better absorb any negative impacts if the shelter failed. The city rejected the District Road site because of inadequate transportation and the probability the location would lead to the “warehousing” of the homeless.

The city also considered operating five smaller shelters scattered across Portland – an idea supported by Nason’s Corner opponents – but concluded the Nason’s Corner location would cost $5.5 million a year less to operate.


The city also concluded the scattered sites would create logistical challenges for staff trying to find overflow space when shelters are full and to coordinate appointments and transportation for people using the shelters.

The Health and Human Services Committee is scheduled to discuss the new shelter at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall at a meeting where city staff will answer questions that have been raised in the past by the committee and constituents. The meeting is closed to public comment.

The committee is slated to vote on the location on Sept. 25. The matter will then go before City Council, which is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the shelter in November and vote on the matter by the end of the year.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.