Homeless advocates plan to lay out 75 thin foam mats in City Hall Plaza on Tuesday to call attention to the loss of overflow shelter space.

Homeless Voices for Justice, an advocacy group composed of people who have experienced homelessness, is protesting a plan to close one of the city’s emergency shelters on July 1 and to stop using hotels as an overflow shelter for homeless families.

The demonstration, which will take place before a public hearing about the planned closure, is intended to evoke the so-called “Tent City” protests in 1987 that led to the city’s commitment to provide shelter to those in need.

“(The shelter) was an important lifesaving thing for me. I had no place to go,” said Jim Devine, an advocate for Homeless Voices for Justice. “I’m concerned about other people who are in that position.”

The demonstration comes as city officials confirm that the city will no longer use hotel rooms for homeless families who are turned away from the city’s Family Shelter when it is full. Demand at the Family Shelter has more than doubled since fiscal 2011.

Advocates fear the changes could result in more than 100 people being turned away each night. On any given night there are nearly 500 men, women and children seeking emergency shelter and there are only 376 shelter beds provided by the city and nonprofit groups, the group said.

“It’s hard to be on the streets with a bunch of kids,” Devine said.

Changes are being proposed in response to a state audit of the city’s homeless shelters. The state has informed the city it will no longer pay for the overall operating costs for its shelters and will only reimburse the city for people who are financially eligible.

City officials have argued that the state has historically paid for the operating costs of Portland’s shelters, regardless of the financial eligibility of people they house, for nearly 30 years, because of the large number of people who stay there. The shelter is a regional service, with many people from other towns and states staying there, they say.

The state also is seeking to prohibit certain types of immigrants from receiving General Assistance – a proposal that could affect 900 people in Portland. The city is contesting that policy change in court.

Next year’s budget would cut $128,000 in funding for the overflow shelter, the Preble Street Resource Center, eliminating three positions. Instead of sleeping on mats in the overflow shelter when Oxford Street is filled up, people would be sent to the city’s General Assistance office on Lancaster Street, where they would wait in plastic chairs for a bed to open up.

In fiscal 2014, hotels were used as overflow shelters on 331 nights – a 67 percent increase over fiscal 2013.

City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin confirmed that the city would no longer use hotels as overflow for the family shelter. Grondin said the city pays a flat rate of $60 a night for a hotel room, for a total of roughly $388,000 for 6,469 bed nights.

The 75-bed overflow shelter at the Preble Street Resource Center has been used every night since it opened in 2010.

The demonstration starts at 4:30 p.m. and the public hearing begins at 5:30 p.m.

 


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