July 25, 2012

Portland's homeless front: More people than ever seek shelter

Demand for beds routinely surpasses supply, a situation made worse by the loss of a federally funded program.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Tim Frary, originally from Texas, says he has been homeless since losing his job at the Portland International Jetport in April. Here, Frary waits with others outside the Oxford Street shelter in Portland on Tuesday evening.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Joseph Bowory, 34, says he’s stayed at the Oxford Street Shelter on and off for 13 years when he’s in between jobs and apartments.

Additional Photos Below


Here is the average number of people seeking overnight shelter in Portland in the month of June for each of the past five years.

2008 – 292

2009 – 299

2010 –  320

2011 – 354

2012 – 411

Source: City of Portland

"It's so overcrowded now," said 34-year-old Joseph Borowy, who has stayed at the shelter on and off for 13 years in between jobs and apartments.

Tim Frary, a 44-year-old man from New York who came to Portland on a job transfer in October, also comes to the shelter early. When Frary began telling a reporter his secrets to getting in the shelter early, 41-year-old Angel Velez warned him to stop because it would become even harder to get a bed.

"This place fills up in 15 minutes," Velez said.

Becky McLucas, who has lived on the streets of Portland 15 years, said she has never seen so many people seeking shelter. "This is at its worst," the 44-year-old said. "It has doubled in size."

The city-run Family Shelter at 54-56 Chestnut St. offers 84 beds in an apartment-style setup to families with children under the age of 18. Last week there was such a demand there that the city put up seven families in hotels, Gardner said.

The increase in homelessness is not limited to a specific group, Gardner said. Single moms, adult men and teenagers are all affected.

In addition to losing the federal funding, Gardner said the recent spike is also the result of the poor economy and the fact that families will hang on to housing until the end of school and then move into the city to seek better opportunities.

The city's Homelessness Prevention, Rapid Re-Housing Program stably housed 1,306 people over the last two years, according to a report form the University of New England. It helped 72 individuals who had previously spent more than 500 nights at a shelter. Each received a median total benefit of $3,880 for an average of eight months.

It also provided assistance to 360 households, consisting of 997 individuals. Each household received an average of $1,831 in rental support and $460 in utility support over a two-month period on average.

For those who were previously homeless, the program freed up 75,730 bed nights at area shelters by providing about $600 a month in rental assistance security deposits for an average of four months, bridging the waiting period for long-term housing vouchers.

The program ran out of funding in November. But Gardner said the city is working with other area shelters to duplicate the case management and support services that were effective under the HPRP.

"The recidivism of less than 5 percent for folks coming out of the shelter was just amazing and it speaks to the power of good social work and case management and making sure folks are evaluated on a case-by-case basis," he said.

In the short term, however, the city is looking for space to open another overflow shelter. Gardner said the city is considering six locations but declined to name them.

Yellen said homelessness is increasing across the country, posing a major challenge.

"It's the kind of thing that has to be a community response," she said. We're all in this together."

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings

Correction: This story was revised at 12:42 p.m., July 25, 2012, to state that Portland's Homelessness Prevention, Rapid Re-Housing Program helped 72 individuals who had previously spent more than 500 nights at a shelter. Each received a median total benefit of $3,880 for an average of eight months.

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Additional Photos

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Portland’s General Assistance Office is being used Tuesday night to shelter homeless people unable to find beds in other city shelters that are at capacity.


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