That's why as we near a decision on the site selection for the new Homeless Services Center, I want to take a moment to celebrate some of the wonderful partnerships that have grown out of this process. Shining a light on the challenges of our current system has inspired multiple new community collaborations. These partnerships will help us, as a community, reach the goals set by the Council back in 2011 when it created a task force to develop a strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness in Portland, Maine. I'm pleased and proud that this process has helped move us closer to that aim.
The first partnership to develop through this process is between the CIty of Portland and AVESTA Housing. In response to our discussions around replacing the Oxford Street Shelter (OSS) with a new Homeless Services Center (HSC), AVESTA proposed partnering with the City to create a separate facility for people age 55+ experiencing homelessness who have a need for residential care. With vast experience in this area through their management of multiple senior communities and assisted living facilities, AVESTA saw the opportunity to better serve a population city staff at the shelter were sometimes hard pressed to accommodate well.
When a person experiencing homelessness has, for instance, a complication from COPD that requires hospitalization, that person could later be discharged from the hospital directly to the OSS (or, in the future, the HSC). This presents a challenge for shelter staff who may not have the necessary training or equipment to assist a person with acute care needs.
With a residential care facility added to our region's specialized facilities, these folks will be able to get the care they need while also relieving pressure on staff and resources at the OSS/HSC.
AVESTA is proposing a multipurpose 81-bed facility consisting of:
- 36 single rooms offering short-term residential care;
- 30 "Housing First" style apartments with supportive services (think Huston Commons); and
- a 15-bed assessment facility to determine appropriate placements.
The proposed location for this facility is on the Barron Center Campus (1145 Brighton Avenue) on city-owned land. The city will provide this land to AVESTA at low or no cost in order to make the development possible. In return, AVESTA will develop and and operate the facility, and, through a Memorandum of Understanding with the city, take referrals directly from the new Homeless Services Center.
TOA's proposal includes creating a new 15-bed residential treatment facility for homeless adults dealing with substance use disorders or mental health issues. As with the AVESTA proposal, TOA would be looking to make a land deal with the City of Portland. In return for low or no cost land on which to site their facility, TOA would complete a Memorandum of Understanding with the city to establish a process for populating the program through direct referrals from the HSC.
Again, this partnership will help to address the needs of a specific population who require a high level of specialized care which can be particularly challenging for staff at the OSS/HSC to provide.
While Community Housing of Maine (CHOM) doesn't provide direct care services, they do broker in a commodity that is essential in any discussion of homelessness: housing. And CHOM's Executive Director, Cullen Ryan, is one of the most well-versed professionals around when it comes to the importance of transitioning people from homelessness to stable housing and how we can, indeed, reach our goal of ending homelessness.
CHOM is currently working with the city to identify one or more parcels of land where affordable supportive-housing can be developed. And as with the other partnerships that have come out of this process, CHOM will work with the city, likely through a Memorandum of Understanding, to prioritize housing guests of the Homeless Services Center first, particularly those who are "Long-Term Stayers."
(Note: Portland was an early adopter of a pioneering method for ending homelessness, and the city's Long Term Stayers Initiative, which was developed with local partners like Amistad, Milestone, Shalom House, TOA, Preble Street, CHOM, Catholic Charities, and the Frannie Peabody Center, has won national recognition. Learn more about the LTS Initiative here and here and see a 2017 update on the numbers here.
There's a great story behind this partnership, which will result in the creation of around 40 units of housing for women experiencing homelessness in Portland. The collaboration between Kevin Bunker and Amistad began outside of the city process to develop a new Homeless Services Center, when Bunker purchased 66 State Street with a plan to develop condominiums there. Understanding that two organizations housed in the building, Amistad and Catholic Charities, would need to relocate, Bunker assured them he would extend their leases until they were able to secure new spaces.
While Bunker considered his plans for 66 State Street, Catholic Charities was able to find new space relatively quickly, but Amistad was having difficulty. After multiple conversations between Bunker and Brian Townsend, the Executive Director of Amistad, Bunker pitched a proposal that would allow Amistad to stay and continue its programming at 66 State Street. Townsend had a different idea.
Bunker listened to Townsend's proposal, agreed that housing for women could be a good fit at 66 State Street, and went to work exploring new financing structures to make the project viable.
While this collaboration began outside of the city's process, it has evolved into a partnership which brings together Amistad, the City of Portland, Developers Collaborative, Through These Doors, and Community Housing of Maine.
These are the partnerships that have manifested to date, but there are likely more to come as we continue our process to replace the Oxford Street Shelter. Why?
Because we have a community of experts in Portland who have been working together to prevent and end homelessness for years—a community of experts and advocates who know the problem and understand the solutions we need to put into place.
And now that we have momentum—from the success of the Long Term Stayers Initiative, from the vision and implementation of plans developed by the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative, and yes, from the City's move to replace the Oxford Street Shelter with a new Homeless Services Center which will finally be able to function in the manner envisioned by that 2011 Task Force—we will continue to make great strides.