Twelve years ago, Avesta Housing and Preble Street opened the doors to Logan Place, the first “housing first” community in Maine. Housing first is an evidence-based, cost-effective approach to ending chronic homelessness. It focuses on getting our most vulnerable neighbors housed as quickly as possible while ensuring that they have ongoing access to critical support services. Avesta is the developer, owner and property manager for Logan Place, while Preble Street provides 24-7 support services for the 30 residents who had experienced chronic homelessness before moving into their new home.

When we opened Logan Place, it was a huge risk. No one else in Maine, and very few people anywhere else in the country, had done anything like this. We were essentially putting millions of dollars and our nonprofit organizations’ reputations on the line to test a new approach to housing Portland’s most vulnerable population – people who had already struggled enormously to stay housed. But the remarkable results have proven to be more than worth the risk.

On the night Logan Place opened, the number of people using the city overnight shelter at Oxford Street decreased for the first time in 20 years. Moreover, after moving into Logan Place, the residents reduced their nights in jail by 88 percent, their visits to the emergency room by 70 percent, and their contacts with police by 81 percent. The data have revealed that housing first is not only more humane, but also less costly than the endless cycle of shelters, emergency rooms, jails, and detox programs that chronically homeless people otherwise endure year after year.

Inspired by the great success of Logan Place, Avesta and Preble Street followed up with another new housing first community in 2011: Florence House, on Valley Street in Portland. Florence House is a safe, supportive place to live for women who experienced homelessness. Over the past six years, it has helped some of our most vulnerable citizens with safe and supportive housing, and has alleviated a significant financial burden on the city.

Logan Place and Florence House have been saving lives and city resources for many years now, but we’ve known since Day One that these two properties wouldn’t be enough. As anyone who lives or works in Portland can tell you, our homelessness challenges are escalating.

I frequently walk to work along Preble Street Extension and Elm Street to Avesta’s office on the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Elm Street. I now see more homeless people during my walks than ever before. They are men and women of all ages, sleeping in doorsteps and under overpasses. The back parking lot of our office sits between the Oxford Street Shelter and Preble Street Resource Center, and many homeless people congregate in that area during the day.

The number of people experiencing homelessness in our community is steadily growing, as are the drug and alcohol issues that many of them face. These are not just my personal observations. Oxford Street Shelter is hitting record numbers on a regular basis.

The growing frustration of Portland’s residents can be seen in the paper, on social media and at City Council meetings. I live and work in Portland, and I share my neighbors’ frustration. What can we do to solve this problem? I’ve spent much of my career working on housing-related issues in Maine, so I don’t consider this question lightly or without a lot of evidence to support my case. The answer is housing first, because housing first communities help both the people experiencing homelessness and the communities struggling to respond.

For many of the 70 residents of Logan Place and Florence House, housing first is the difference between death on the streets and the renewed possibility of a fulfilling life, but we know that those two properties aren’t enough to meet the increasing need. That is why Avesta Housing and Preble Street have recently partnered to create another housing first community: Huston Commons, located in the Morrill’s Corner area of Portland.

I welcome my fellow Mainers to join Avesta Housing and Preble Street in celebrating the opening Tuesday of Huston Commons, which is now home to 30 formerly homeless adults with disabilities. I encourage you to come see for yourself how hopeful and successful the housing first approach is. Ending chronic homelessness may be immensely challenging work, but we’ll keep at it until all of our neighbors have a safe, affordable place to call home.

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