For the time being, City Councilor Kimberly Cook has decided not to ask for a council vote on replacing the city of Portland’s homeless shelter for adults with one city-run shelter, as opposed to two or more smaller facilities.

However, Cook said she has the resolution in hand, should it be needed in the future, especially if the council committee studying the issue recommends a model that the council will not support. The Health and Human Services Committee will hold a public hearing and possibly vote on a model on Nov. 27.

“As long as the committee is making progress toward a model that has support on the council, then I don’t think there will be a need for a resolution,” Cook said Monday afternoon. “If we need to bring it forward, then we will.”

The move illustrates the stakes involved in what could be one of the most consequential council decisions in recent years.

The city has been looking at ways to replace its Oxford Street Shelter, an outdated and overcrowded facility that has operated in Bayside for more than 30 years. The aging converted apartment building can shelter 154 adults on floor mats, but routinely sends people to overflow shelters. The facility lacks a soup kitchen and adequate space to counsel people struggling with a variety of issues.

The city also runs a separate homeless shelter for families, but no changes are being discussed at that facility. And nonprofits operate smaller shelters for women, the substance-dependent and victims of domestic violence.

Over the summer, city staff recommended building a 200-bed shelter for adults at the city-owned Barron Center nursing home property on Brighton Avenue, near the city border with Westbrook. But the proposal drew harsh criticism from the Nason’s Corner neighborhood, which quickly mobilized against the plan. That prompted the council to ask staff to look for other locations and other models.

A new staff proposal unveiled last week would include a consolidated city shelter while also working with two nonprofits, Avesta Housing and Opportunity Alliance, to create specialized facilities for adults 55 and older who need assisted living and for the mentally ill. Staff believes the nonprofit partnerships would allow the city to focus on an emergency adult shelter with 150 beds or fewer and additional services such as meals and health care.

Even while the overall model is still up for debate, some residents of Nason’s Corner are already looking at the next step: finding a location. Ed Cundy was one of three people to address the council Monday night. He said the neighborhood is still waiting to hear the objective criteria that the city will use to site the new shelter or shelters, and exactly how a shelter could be integrated into a residential neighborhood.

“I think a bottom-line issue here is not having a low-barrier shelter in a residential area,” Cundy said. “It’s a mistake we have seen in Bayside. I think it’s going to lead to the same problems” in Nason’s Corner.

Cook considered asking the council to support a resolution after a roughly four-hour workshop of the Health and Human Services Committee. At last week’s meeting, six city councilors said they’re likely to support only one city-run shelter to replace the Oxford Street Shelter. And all councilors were interested in exploring possible partnerships with Avesta, Opportunity Alliance and any other organization.

But City Councilor Brian Batson, along with Mayor Ethan Strimling, have continued to advocate for a scattered-sites model. Batson said he would like the city to operate two shelters, noting that Preble Street recently expressed interest in opening a women’s shelter.

Batson said he is pleased that Cook would not be introducing her resolution. However, he is still concerned that all nine members of the council, including the mayor, participated in a non-binding straw poll at last week’s meeting without letting people know and holding a public hearing.

“I feel that was the appropriate step to take,” Batson said of Cook’s decision. “However, it does not negate my previous sentiment regarding the process of the last meeting.”

City Councilor Belinda Ray, who leads the committee, said she is hopeful that committee members will focus their efforts and attention on a model that has council support. She said the council has repeatedly asked staff to look at one city-run shelter for adults, not multiple city-run shelters.

After the city settles on a model, Ray said the committee will delve into potential locations.

“Staff will come forward with more information on the 27th,” Ray said, “and I have faith that the committee will make some good decisions.”

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

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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