Portland officials consider change to homeless shelter system

Portland to update homeless shelters?

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Portland city officials said they are considering changing the current homeless shelter  this is all in the very early planning stage.

That change could possibly include the building of multiple shelters around the city.

The idea comes after state Health & Human Services Committee members took to Massachusetts, where they saw a model that they think could work well for Portland.

Officials said a change is necessary because what the "typical" homeless person looks like has changed, largely because of the heroin crisis.

“What I don't want is to aggregate all of those services in one specific area of the city,” Portland City Manager Jon Jennings said. “I think the Bayside neighborhood — the community there — has borne disproportionately the brunt of the social services in the city.”

Currently, both major homeless shelters in Portland are within 2.5 blocks of each other.

It's still very early in the planning stage, but changes could range from one new shelter in a new location in Portland, to multiple smaller shelters across the city.

“You also have the day room concept,” Jennings said, “where people aren't forced out during the day to hang out on the street corner or hang out at the library.”

One idea includes smaller shelters that are focused on specific needs, like substance abuse, job training, education, etc. Officials are also looking into the possibility of dorms separating men and women.

“Part of what we have done in terms of city policy has contributed to some of the problems that we have seen in our streets," Jennings said.

What they know is that something has to be done to improve the current system.

They said part of that includes catering to a new generation of homeless people, largely stemming from the state's opioid crisis.

“We got really, really good at working with your stereotypical chronic street drinker,” Oxford Street Homeless Shelter Director Rob Parritt said. “They're being replaced by this new cohort of younger, opiate-addicted folks. We're working to figure out what's going to work best with this population.”

As far as who will pay for a new shelter, who would staff it, and other money concerns, officials said the planning stage isn't at that point yet.

The next step would be for the city council to vote to change the current zoning of the city to allow for a shelter to be moved. They can then start to tackle some of the other issues.

Copyright 2016 WCSH


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