Wednesday, May 22, 2013
PORTLAND — You see them holding cardboard signs on a street corner, or waiting in line for a hot meal.
James Lamoin, Michael Cohen, Susan Passerello
Last December, the City Council appointed a Task Force on Homelessness to draft a plan to prevent and end homelessness. On Monday, the council will receive its report of long-term strategies.
The report recommends:
— Centralizing the in-take process at shelters.
— Building three 35-unit housing complexes with in-house supportive services for tenants.
— Expanding case management services to align with the clients’ needs, rather than what is reimbursable.
Portland's homeless population, shelter officials say, is at record levels and straining their ability to care for those in need.
Officials attribute the recent rise in homelessness mostly to the loss of the city's Homelessness Prevention, Rapid Re-Housing Program, which ran out of federal funding last November.
The two-year program, funded by $876,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, paid for seven full-time employees and provided rental assistance and support services.
As a result of the loss, people are spending more time in city shelters, officials say.
From Oct. 1, 2011, to Oct. 1, 2012, the Oxford Street Shelter was full every night except one, said Douglas Gardner, the city's director of Public Health and Human Services. That's up from 170 capacity nights during the previous year.
Most nights, the Preble Street Resource Center is used to house an overflow of up to 75 people, and the city's General Assistance office is increasingly used as an overnight shelter for up to 50 people.
Gardner said the General Assistance office was used 35 times in the past year as an emergency shelter.
A task force appointed last year to develop strategies for preventing homelessness in Portland will present its findings to the City Council on Monday.
The report makes several recommendations that it says could save about $2.2 million a year in emergency care, but acknowledges that it would take "a significant investment on the part of many different organizations" to make that happen.
Portland has had a policy of not turning away anyone seeking shelter since 1987, when then-City Manager Bob Ganley instituted the rule after a homeless encampment sprang up at City Hall to protest the closure of a shelter.
Since June, nightly homeless figures have been up by nearly 20 percent from the previous year. And there's no indication the increasing demand will change anytime soon, said Josh O'Brien, director of the Oxford Street Shelter.
So who are these people? Where do they come from? What are they seeking?
According to intake records and shelter staff, the people using the Oxford Street Shelter are divided evenly between three groups: Portland residents, Mainers from other towns, and people arriving from out of state.
Portland residents use the shelter for a variety of reasons, but many who are homeless struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. Most out-of-town homeless come to Portland because their community doesn't have a shelter or because theirs is full. Many out-of-state homeless say they come here specifically for the city's housing services.
Here are the stories of people from each of those groups.
THE LOCAL: City man faces chronic struggle with his demons
The last time 40-year-old James Lamoin had any stability in his life was when he was a teenager, living on Washington Avenue with his family.
Since then, Lamoin, a heavyset man with a big beard who carries his belongings in a black trash bag, has been battling his personal demons. He suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and diabetes. He also struggles with drug and alcohol addiction.
Lamoin said he gets by on disability checks, food stamps and Section 8 housing vouchers. There is currently a waiting list for low-income housing.
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