Portland’s 154-bed Oxford Street Shelter is outdated and overcrowded, leaving city councilors with the difficult task of replacing it.
Portland officials have identified more than a dozen potential sites for city councilors to consider for one or more new homeless shelters.
The list of 14 sites identified as “reasonable” alternatives includes two parcels near the waterfront and downtown, as well as the former West School property in Libbytown and several others on the outskirts of the city.
The city staff will present the list to the council’s Public Safety and Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday night.
City Manager Jon Jennings said staff members are asking the committee, which includes Councilors Pious Ali and Brian Batson, for input about which locations and models to explore further.
“We hope the committee will give us guidance on locations they do not want to consider as well as asking for additional information for areas that make sense for the facilities we have discussed,” Jennings said.
The presentation kicks off another round of discussions about replacing the city-run Oxford Street Shelter, which has been in Bayside for more than three decades. The shelter regularly exceeds its 154-person capacity, so the city sets up one or more overflow shelters, including 75 mats at the Preble Street Resource Center.
Tuesday’s meeting will not include a public hearing. But Councilor Belinda Ray, who leads the committee, said people can weigh in via email to committee members. Otherwise, a public hearing will be scheduled for this spring, possibly in March.
“When we know we have a list of reasonable options, then we’ll know it’s time for the public to weigh in,” Ray said.
City staff considers the facility at 203 Oxford St. to be outdated and poorly designed for both clients and city staff. It lacks sufficient space for beds – people sleep on thin mats lined up on the floor – and for meeting with clients.
The city runs a Family Shelter, which is also overflowing. But the city is only discussing the replacement of the Oxford Street Shelter, a facility for single adults.
Last summer, city officials recommended building a new shelter for about 200 homeless adults on land at the city-owned Barron Center. But officials dropped that plan after it was fiercely opposed by residents of Nason’s Corner.
In addition to beginning a new process for selecting possible sites, city officials also reconsidered whether to build one large replacement shelter or multiple smaller ones. City leaders now are looking at building one city-run shelter and partnering with nonprofit agencies that would operate smaller shelters for women or groups with special needs.
The Barron Center property is still included on the updated city list. City officials have not ruled out that location for one of three specialty facilities that may be developed and operated by the nonprofits.
Avesta Housing is looking at a facility for people 55 and over with medical issues who are currently discharged from hospitals directly to the Oxford Street Shelter. That population often needs 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 center and 30 units of supportive housing for seniors.
The Opportunity Alliance is interested in creating a 15-person shelter for people with chronic and persistent mental illness. And Preble Street expressed interest in building and operating a women’s shelter with up to 80 beds that would coordinate services and care for women struggling with substance use disorder, mental illness, violence and trauma.
The potential partnerships allowed the city to lower the capacity of its proposed emergency shelter to 150 beds. The new homeless services center would include a host of other services, including an on-site soup kitchen and medical clinic, among other things.
The city unveiled a list of more than 30 potential sites in November, but didn’t include any street addresses.
Over the last two months, staff members have whittled that down to what they think are 14 most feasible locations, nearly all of which are already owned by the city. Back-up material for Tuesday’s meeting does not include any objective scoring criteria or results and does not fully explain why some sites were ruled out.
Ray expects that information to be presented Tuesday.
According to a presentation on the city’s website, a dirt parking lot on Thames Street near the eastern waterfront has been flagged as a potential site, as has Angelo’s Acre – a surface lot located on Commercial Street near the Casco Bay Bridge. Other surface parking lots located at 88 Middle and 33 Portland streets are in the mix as well.
Franklin Reserve in East Bayside made the list. That property is open land and a community garden across Cumberland Avenue from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. But Ray said she expects this will be removed as an option, since it’s a city park.
Another potential site is the land located behind the Rosemont Fire Station at 212 Stevens Ave.
The former West School property on Douglass Street and land near the Cumberland County Jail on County Way also are possible locations. The County Way site would need to be acquired by the city. Both sites are in Libbytown.
Other potential sites are: 1819 Westbrook St., Riverside Industrial Park, 622 Auburn St., 3 Hutchins Drive and a site on Warren Avenue that would need to be acquired by the city.
District Road has been ruled out as a potential site because it was purchased using federal aviation dollars. Several Nason’s Corner residents have been pushing that location.
Paul Bradbury, director of the Portland International Jetport, said in a September memo to the city manager that land can be released for a non-aviation use only if it is considered surplus, meaning it won’t be needed for future airport uses. Since the jetport is using that land, it does not fit that definition, he said.
Even if it was determined to be surplus, the jetport would have to sell it at fair market value and the future land use would need to comply with rules established by the Federal Aviation Administration, he said.
“Given the aeronautical uses for this parcel and the land use noise incompatibility as a homeless shelter noted above, I do not believe FAA would issue a land release for this parcel,” Bradbury said.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: