December 3, 2013

Our View: Bad location proposed for new Portland DHHS office

It makes no sense to move a state agency so far from the people it serves.

They say the first rule of real estate is location, location, location.

click image to enlarge

The Department of Health and Human Services office building on Marginal Way in Portland. Moving out of this easily accessible building to a remote site by the airport makes no sense.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

That means that identical buildings in different neighborhoods can have vastly different values. It means that a good building in the wrong place is not a good building.

Everybody knows this, except maybe the Maine state government, which has selected a site in South Portland near the Portland International Jetport to build a combined Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Labor facility, taking the place of current buildings in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, including the Marginal Way DHHS building, which has become too expensive.

It makes sense for the state to consolidate services in the same building. It makes sense for the state to try to save money on real estate.

But putting a building designed to serve low-income people outside of the city, in a place best reached by car, makes no sense. No matter what kind of facility the developer builds for the state, the new building’s remote location will interfere with the ability of the agency to do its work, making this the wrong location for the state.

The mission of the Department of Health and Human Services is to provide service.

Putting the office where it can’t be reached without a four-mile walk or a 40-minute bus ride would make it more difficult for people to access services they need.

Some will say that’s a good thing because we spend too much on welfare already.

But it’s not a good thing to fund the agency and not deliver effective services. Wasting money is not the same thing as saving money.

And it is shortsighted to discourage people from coming to these offices. Clients come in for case management. It’s where they go to participate in the ASPIRE job training program and the Parents as Scholars education support.

It’s where the DHHS does the initial Ticket to Work screening of welfare applicants to identify what, if any, barriers keep them from working. If there are issues with skills, education, mental health or substance abuse, applicants will be connected with other state agencies for services. Nothing is gained by making them less likely to walk through the door.

Community leaders from the mayor of Portland to the Cumberland County sheriff are calling on the state to reconsider this decision. So are social service providers and the region’s legislators.

There is still time to look for other options without leaving the neighborhood. There’s no point in moving such an important facility to the wrong location.

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