The latest analysis of Portland’s options for a new homeless shelter lists over 30 possible sites, including some near the waterfront, as well as the possibility of multiple facilities and partnerships with local nonprofits.

City officials are expected to suggest a new service model, including two smaller specialty facilities in addition to a central emergency shelter. The structure could include partnerships with Avesta Housing and the Opportunity Alliance to operate smaller treatment centers for people with mental health problems and for people 55 or older with medical issues – populations that city staff does not have the expertise to help, said City Manager Jon Jennings. That would allow the city to build a 150-person homeless services center somewhere in the city, he said.

“We do think this other model with the two specialty facilities is a much more humane approach to dealing with the chronic issues around mental health and longterm health-related matters,” Jennings said. “Ultimately, it will be up to the council and committee to decide what approach they want to take.”

The potential partnerships will be part of a new analysis to be presented Tuesday to the City Council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee, which directed staff to consider alternative locations and models for replacing the Oxford Street Shelter, which has been in Bayside for over 30 years. Demand routinely exceeds that shelter’s capacity, forcing the city to open one or more overflow shelters. And the city shelter lacks a soup kitchen and spaces to meet with people struggling with myriad issues, ranging from a lack of housing to substance use and mental health problems.

The expanded analysis comes after a previous staff proposal to build a new 200-bed shelter with an on-site soup kitchen and health clinic next to the city-owned Barron Center near the Westbrook line drew fierce opposition from the Nason’s Corner neighborhood. The committee loosened previous restrictions on potential sites, opening up all areas of the city to a potential shelter.

“If the council wants a 200-bed shelter, we still stand behind the location at the Barron Center,” Jennings said.

NO DETAILS ON LOCATIONS

The city’s new analysis includes about 30 properties for the council to consider, although the city has not provided details about those locations or said whether city staff is recommending any of them. Those locations are plotted on a map that’s part of the analysis and appear to include the Barron Center, as well as land near the Casco Bay Bridge, the Portland Ocean Terminal and the Portland Technology Park.

City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin said a list of the properties and their addresses was not available. “The purpose of the meeting on the 13th is to discuss potential models. We’ll drill down on locations once we get guidance on the model,” she said.

Jennings said he’s been talking to Avesta about a facility for people 55 and over with medical issues who are currently discharged from hospitals directly to the Oxford Street Shelter and who often need ongoing medical attention, whether it’s taking medicine or changing bandages. The specialized facility could include a 15-unit assessment center, 36-unit assisted living unit and 30 units of supportive housing for seniors.

Of the roughly 1,800 people who stayed at the Oxford Street shelter from October 2017 to October 2018, 286 were age 55 or older, according to city data. Another 640 people were age 41 to 54, many of whom have serious medical issues related to being homeless for extended periods, the city said.

PARTNERSHIP WITH NONPROFITS

Avesta Housing President and CEO Dana Totman said the nonprofit has been talking to the city about contributing its experience in assisted living and housing-first developments.

“At this point, we are exploring the financial feasibility of both and think there is good potential,” Totman said. “We have also reviewed data regarding the number and health of Portland’s older homeless population and feel our plans might be a good fit. The frailty and vulnerability of older homeless individuals is significant and we’d love to partner with the city to help in any way.”

Discussions with Opportunity Alliance have focused on operating a 15-person shelter for people with chronic and persistent mental illness.

Opportunity Alliance President and CEO Michael Tarpinian emphasized that such a facility would be a treatment center, rather than a shelter. Like its current program, The Bridge, which serves 12 people for periods of six months to a year, the program would aim to prevent people from going to the homeless shelter and help treat their mental illness, so they can find stable housing and, if possible, employment.

Such a model would depend on several variables, Tarpinian said. In addition to council support, the nonprofit would need someone to donate land or a building. It would also take a partnership with a developer, from whom a facility could be leased. And while Medicaid could cover 85 percent of the treatment costs, the city would need to help cover the cost of room and board, he said.

“We understand that options are going to be put forth,” Tarpinian said. “But if the council decides to move in this direction, we’re more than ready to partner with them.”

The two specialized facilities would allow the city to plan for a 150-person emergency shelter that could serve everyone else, ranging from people who experience a temporary financial hardship to those struggling with substance use disorder.

“Substance use is a core focus of what we’re planning to do with the emergency shelter side of this,” Jennings said, noting that the city is in discussions with Greater Portland Health to operate a health clinic at a new centralized shelter. “In terms of the treatment options, that’s still being discussed.”

MULTIPLE FACILITIES COSTLIER

Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Councilor Brian Batson, whose district includes the Barron Center, are among those advocating for smaller shelters scattered throughout the city, rather than one large shelter. An updated analysis provided by city staff says a single shelter would cost $5.2 million in startup and operational costs, while having three scattered sites would cost $9.2 million and require twice as many staffers. The current shelter costs $3.8 million.

In a memo to the committee, Social Services Director David MacLean said a network of low-barrier shelters would need to be able to accommodate overflow, because the city can’t control where people choose to stay. And specialty shelters would present a challenge in terms of providing overflow space, because mixing different populations would defeat the purpose of having shelters that serve only women, veterans, seniors or the like, he said.

“It is important to note that (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and (U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness) state that it is important that barriers to any shelters are limited, including keeping partners together, as this is a leading contributor to folks not accessing shelter and staying outside,” McLean said. “The more specific you get, the tougher this becomes.”

CITY-OWNED, OTHER SITES

The analysis also identifies 650 city-owned parcels that could accommodate an either 20,000-square-foot or a 10,000-square-foot facility. Once parks, land bank properties, wetlands and zoning issues are accounted for, that leaves the roughly 30 sites listed in the new analysis. The District Road site, near the airport, that was suggested by Nason’s Corner residents appears to be on the map, as are Angelo’s Acre near the Casco Bay Bridge, the Portland Ocean Terminal to the Amethyst lot on the eastern waterfront, Dougherty Field in Libbytown, the Portland Technology Park and land near the city’s public works campus on Canco Road.

Another 15 sites including former Rite Aids, warehouses, office space and undeveloped land, also were identified by Realtors. But many of those sites involve leases where the landlord would not allow a shelter.

Unsolicited ideas from the community for shelters at Mercy Hospital and an old cruise ship on the waterfront were also flagged for council discussion.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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