We've been steadily working toward this for over a decade. It is a crucial step in the well thought out, deliberate plan to prevent and end homelessness in Portland. This work that has involved community members, elected officials, city staff, service providers, and advocates, including people with lived experienced of being unhoused.
- Why the new HSC is right for Portland
- The Experts Speak: What local and national experts say about the HSC and why the "smaller shelters" argument is bad for Portland
- Timeline of Progress from 2011-2021
- Detailed annotations for the Timeline, including graphics, information, and links
- Other Resources
Low-barrier emergency shelter is also a key component to addressing homelessness because it provides immediate shelter options for people who cannot immediately access permanent housing.
The majority of people who access our shelter services here in Portland spend less than 2 months there before moving to a more permanent housing situation. The most common length of stay is just one or two nights - but those nights are crucial in connecting peoople with services and getting them into stable housing. Without adequate emergency shelter services, thes folks would be spending this brief period in potentially unsafe or unhealthy circumstances, and their outcomes could be far less favorable.
And recently, with the completion of an initial assessment the state's homeless services system, Maine Housing and the State of Maine have jumped in with both feet to help ensure there is a deliberate and comprehensive statewide approach to addressing homelessness going forward. In addition to establishing and helping to fund regional service hubs, the state is also proposing increased funding for new affordable and supportive housing projects while supporting emergency shelter capacity building.
The new Homeless Services Center at 650 Riverside Street and the companion Prevention and Triage Services at 39 Forest Avenue will both be key steps in the process of improving services for people experiencing homelessness here in the Cumberland County service hub. And these services are both based on years of thoughtful consideration, research, and reviews of best practices.
The new HSC will finally allow us to put into place the best practices that have been called for in the 2011 Task Force report, that were reaffirmed by the 2015 task force as the best path forward, that were again endorsed during the 2017 HHS & PS Committee work to determine how to configure the replacement for the OSS in order to implement best practices and best serve our clients.
Indeed, when Robert Pulster of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness visited Portland to review our plans and our 2020 Policy Resolution, he affirmed that our vision for the HSC is right on track with best practices.
To view the Council Workshop with Robert Pulster, use this Town Hall Streams link (the meeting starts at 1:25:00).
But don't just take Mr. Pulster's word for it. Check out what other experts are saying about the HSC and about the problems with creating multiple "smaller shelters" instead of facilities like the HSC.
When we operate hundreds of individual shelters, transitional housing, and service programs, all targeting different populations, with different screening criteria and models, we create a maze that is impossible to navigate and slows our progress. What if we could deconstruct the complicated emergency shelter, housing, and service system that we have created over the last several decades so that shelter acts as an assessment and triage center to help people quickly get on with their lives? (from the USICH paper, "Using Shelter Strategically to End Homelessness")
Portland’s existing facilities were not designed for and are insufficient to meet current demand. In our work at Spurwink, we see every day how the pandemic has only heightened community need. The new Homeless Service Center will improve service delivery, provide opportunities for enhanced collaboration with community providers, and generate better outcomes for people struggling with homelessness. Both the City and developers have worked closely with people experiencing homelessness and local providers, including Spurwink, in the development of this project. It will be a space that validates the worth of the people it serves. Defaulting to smaller shelters would be administratively and financially unsustainable and hurt the people we are working to serve. The plan approved by the Planning Board, for the new Homeless Service Center, best meets the critical community need.
Oliver Bradeen, Executive Director, Milestone Recovery
I just want to reiterate that Milestone is in support of the Riverside project. We think that the path forward for the city is to have more services available and that that service has been thoroughly vetted and worked on for years and we need to move forward with that so that we can start creating solutions for the challenges that we're seeing in Bayside and in the rest of the city. I think the conversation about trying to limit resources is a step backwards.
Cullen Ryan, Community Housing of Maine
The city has dedicated abundant time and consulted a lot of community input and created a shelter design that Includes a comprehensive array of Support Services on-site. The goal is to surround people with everything they need to get housed and remain housed.
I do not believe a model of scattered, multiple shelters would serve people in homelessness in Portland well. The existence of multiple shelters would have a critically negative impact on the ability of shelter guests to navigate our community's system of support, resources and treatment, in part because of the strain on the resources of the agencies and entities within this community who work to serve this population.
Rebecca Hobbs, Through These Doors
I have had conflicting feelings about both the scattered and centralized site models; there are drawbacks and benefits of both. But I have come to an opinion at this point: As I think about the City of Portland and our needs and resources, I believe that a more centralized model is in the best interests of the City and the homeless people who live here.
Norman Maze, Shalom House
While we understand the concerns that some have about a single 200-bed shelter, we do not believe that multiple scattered-site shelters are the answer. Norman Maze via email, 11/12/2018
Bob Fowler, Milestone Recovery
Below are expanded descriptions of what happened at each point on the timeline above. Keep scrolling to get the details, or skip to the next section:
The Task Force to Prevent and End Homelessness comprised 21 community members, including representatives from Preble Street, Mercy, Maine Med, The Opportunity Alliance, Avesta, DHHS, Homeless Voices for Justice, The United Way, and others. Details about their purpose and documents relating to their work can be found on the City's website, here.
The Final Report of the 2011 Task Force recommended a retooling of the emergency shelter system, as explained a slide from their pubic hearing presentation, at right.
With no other facility coming close to being able to serve
The recommendations of the 2011 task force were shared with the City Council at it's November 12, 2012 meeting via Communication 5 (second item on page 3 of the minutes of the 11/19/2012 Council meeting), at which time the Council referred two of the task force's recommendations to the HHS & PS Committee for action. Those two items were Retooling the Emergency Shelter System and Rapid Rehousing.
Between 2012 and 2015, City staff, working with community partners, made great strides on Rapid Rehousing with their implementation of the award winning Long-Term Stayers Initiative. The LTS initiative sought to address capacity issues at the Oxford Street Shelter by focusing resources on those people who were homeless for the longest period of time. Unfortunately, the HHS & PS did not make similar progress on "retooling the emergency shelter system" during that period. The inadequate Oxford Street Shelter, a facility with insufficient day space and no ability to consolidate services on site, continued to function as the Central Intake/General Shelter, just as it does today.
The HHS & PS committee, chaired by Ed Suslovic (District 3), once again takes up the issue of the inadequacy Oxford Street Shelter to serve as an emergency shelter. After some discussion, the committee recommends a second task force, essentially to examine the recommendations of the 2011 task force. This task force, The Task Force to Examine the Feasibility of the Consolidation of Shelter Services, was formally established by the Council on March 16, 2015 through Order 182-14/15.
The primary goal of the 2015 Shelter Planning Task Force was to recommend a replacement for the OSS that was feasible considering funding resources and with an eye to use "resources as efficiently and effectively as possible" while serving "the best interest of people experiencing homelessness and the city as a whole."
One of the best practices memos the 2015 Task Force studied featured this graphic from the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance.
As you can see, it is very similar to the graphic created by the 2011 Task Force with the exception of one element: it shows the triage and assessment process outside of the emergency shelter to demonstrate the desire for diversion from the shelter system whenever possible.
Interesting side note: This year (2021) we have set up a separate triage and assessment space at 39 Forest Ave for exactly that reason.
Once again, the HHS & PS Committee, still chaired by Ed Suslovic, takes up the issue of replacing the Oxford Street Shelter. This time, the committee visits shelters in Boston: Father Bill's Place in Quincy, and the Caspar Emergency Services Center & Shelter on the MIT Campus. At the shelters, the committee has the opportunity to talk with staff and residents about best practices while touring the facilities.
The HHS & PS Committee and the Council pass ordinance amendments to expand zoning in the City where emergency shelters can be established as a conditional use. Prior to this expansion of zoning, emergency shelters were only allowed in one small area of the city - in the B3 zone.
The B-3 Zone, where shelters were allowed prior to the zoning expansion, is the small area in RED in the map at right.
In June of 2017 the Council voted to expand the zoning where emergency shelters would be acceptable as conditional uses to include the pink, purple, green, and yellow shaded areas.
Also in 2017, the HHS & PS Committee spent several months considering the layout and design for a new Homeless Services Center to replace the Oxford Street Shelter. While this exercise didn't produce a binding, final design for the facility, it helped to give us an idea of how large a footprint we needed and where we might be able to find land appropriate to site the facility.
For the next two years, the HHS & PS Committee and the Council worked to find a good site for the new facility. To get more details on this process, check out the articles below:
Shelter Update: Finding the Best Site
Shelter Process: Narrowing the List
Ultimately, after narrowing the list at the HHS & PS Committee, two sites were forwarded to the full council for consideration: Angelo's Acre and 634-658 Riverside. In June of 2019, the Council selected the Riverside site as the location for the new HSC.
Once the site was selected, the HHS & PS Committee took some time to craft policy guidance for the operation of the new facility. You can find that guidance in Resolution 7-19/20.
The City issues an RFP to solicit designs and building plans for the new Homeless Services Center. The winning proposal came from Developers Collaborative and can be viewed here.
In September of 2021, the Developers Collaborative design and plan was approved by the Planning Board. You can see the documentation from that meeting here.
The HSC is expected to break ground toward the end of 2021 and be ready for occupancy by early 2023.
- True Confessions: I used to think smaller shelters were the answer, too
- City of Portland: Planning for a New Homeless Services Center
- Data and Statistics from the City of Portland and the Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee
- The Scattered Site Model: A History
- 10 Years, 400+ Articles on Homelessness
- Vote for Option B on Portland's Question 1
- Smaller Shelters Initiative is not what it seems
- Portland Ballot Question Would Limit the Size of new Homeless Shelters
- September 14, 2021 Planning Board Agenda with detailed plans for the HSC (click the "Agenda Items" tabe and scroll down to Item 5.iv: The Major Site Plan and Conditional Use review for the project)