July 29, 2013

Portland's panhandling restriction may beg bigger question

While vagrants on medians may be a symptom of a larger problem, solutions are elusive.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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It’s a sign of the times for Shane Boilard, who says if Portland enforces its upcoming ban on median panhandling, he’ll just leave the St. John Street/Park Avenue intersection for another location in the city.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Shane Boilard says a day of panhandling on a Portland traffic median nets him $10 and that, along with food stamps, allows him some semblance of a life, but that would be jeopardized if the city forces him off the streets.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The programs will provide job training, transportation, child care and other services to help eliminate barriers to stable, permanent employment for homeless people, immigrants and single parents who have struggled to get and keep jobs.

A working group reviewed CDBG funding priorities and called for transformative spending on sustainable workforce development programs, according to Mayor Michael Brennan.

The city also has increased social services case management and combined efforts with the Portland Housing Authority to help homeless people find permanent housing and other assistance, Brennan said.

"We're trying to take a comprehensive approach to help people find housing and economic stability," Brennan said. "When I see someone holding a sign that says, 'I'm homeless and hungry,' I want to know the story behind that sign. We have enough resources in this city that there shouldn't be anyone who doesn't have enough to eat or a place to stay."

In addition, the city is poised to seek proposals for an apartment building that would provide services for people struggling with substance abuse and mental illness, as recommended last fall by a task force that studies homelessness in Portland. There are two similar buildings -- Logan Place and Florence House -- for the chronically homeless in Portland.

Much of this work links ongoing concerns and efforts in the public, nonprofit and business sectors, including the Portland Development Corp., Community Policing, Portland Downtown District, Portland Housing Authority, Portland Chamber and Preble Street, an agency that serves homeless people.

In addition, the city is working with the chamber, the downtown district and the United Way of Greater Portland to develop a Have a Heart campaign to encourage giving to programs that help people in need rather than directly to panhandlers.

"We want to work together to solve as many of these problems as possible," said chamber CEO Chris Hall, who headed to CDBG funding review. "The single most important thing you can do for someone is to provide safe and secure housing."

Beyond the altruism and ethics of providing housing to people in need, Hall said, it's smart economics because it's cheaper than dealing with all of the other problems that result from homelessness.

Shane Boilard would agree. He's been homeless for most of the last several years, he says, after losing a job installing home insulation and struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. He sleeps outdoors most of the year, he says, moving every few days to avoid getting rousted by police. But it's tough to sleep and hold a job, he says, and cleanliness and comfort are always issues when you're dealing with the elements.

"The worst days are the cold and rainy days. You can't get your clothes or your stuff dry," Boilard says. "It would be great if the city could help people get off the streets and get jobs."

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@mainetoday.com

 

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