The crowd listens as Portland officials field questions Thursday night about the city’s plan to replace the Oxford Street Shelter with a new facility on Brighton Avenue. The crowd of nearly 200 booed and shouted at city officials. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

City staff, elected officials and the mayor faced a hostile crowd of residents Thursday who are upset about plans to build a new emergency shelter on city-owned property on Brighton Avenue.

More than 200 residents booed and shouted at city officials at the Breakwater School gymnasium as they tried to address concerns about building a $10 million, 200-bed emergency shelter at the Barron Center, a city-run nursing home near the Westbrook town line.

The challenge for the city became apparent early in the 90-minute meeting: To try to assure residents who live in the Nason’s Corner neighborhood that the city would not be simply picking up the Oxford Street Shelter and street issues caused by predatory behavior and moving it all to their neighborhood.

City officials say the vast majority of people needing emergency shelter are in and out in a matter of weeks or months, and only a small percentage of the people in Bayside, many of whom don’t use the shelter, cause problems.

Resident Lynn Campbell was concerned that city officials and police have not been able to turn the tide in Bayside, which has been plagued by increasing substance use, untreated mental illness and crime. Other residents worried about encampments springing up in wooded areas and the neighborhood becoming dangerous for children.

“What makes you think it would be any different here?” Campbell said. “How are you going to keep us safe?”

City officials said the new shelter would be a completely different model. The current shelter is in a converted apartment building on Oxford Street. It was not designed to be a shelter and has no kitchen, so clients walk two blocks to Preble Street to use the soup kitchen, laundry and other day services.

The Oxford Street Shelter, with room for 154 people on a given night, is over capacity, so people sleep on mats on the floor instead of beds, and overflow space is routinely used.

Officials said the new shelter would have 200 beds, a built-in soup kitchen, a screened-in area for people to be outside, separate areas for men and women, bathrooms, lockers, laundry services and meeting rooms where service providers could meet with clients. It would be open and staffed 24 hours a day.

City Manager Jon Jennings said he looked throughout the city for a location and the Barron Center was the only one that met the council’s criteria for being on a bus line and not hiding the issue of homelessness.

The city considered building several smaller shelters throughout the city, but such a model is too expensive and would require too many city resources to operate, said Rob Parritt, director of the Oxford Street Shelter.

In addition to having its own security officers, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said, the new “one-stop” shelter would be easier to police because the city owns the land. Since it’s not embedded in a neighborhood like the Oxford Street Shelter, any bad actors would be easy to pick out. And community police officers would be located on site.

“They’ll stick out like a sore thumb rather than be one of hundreds,” Sauschuck said.

But assurances and explanations were greeted with angry responses from the crowd.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck addresses the crowd gathered Thursday night for the Nason’s Corner Neighborhood Association meeting to discuss the city’s plan to replace the Oxford Street Shelter. Sauschuck said the new “one-stop” shelter on the grounds of the Barron Center would be easier to police because the city owns the land. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Joe Fagone, a retired Portland police officer, warned that Bayside’s crime issues would come to Nason’s Corner and the local fire station would be overwhelmed with emergency calls associated with the shelter, slowing response times for other calls.

“It’s coming out here,” said Fagone, who like other critics was enthusiastically applauded. “We should be reducing the number of beds, not adding them.”

City Councilor Belinda Ray, who leads the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, which is having a public hearing about the proposal on July 10, urged the crowd to separate the issues of homeless and crime.

“This population is not the problem,” Ray said. “I want to make sure we work hard to separate those issues. Homelessness is not criminality.”

She implored the crowd to keep an open mind. A new shelter would be “a vastly different model than we have right now. Shelters can be very good neighbors.”

The committee had originally hoped to vote on the proposal this summer, but Ray said the vote will probably happen in September.

City Councilor Brian Batson said in an interview before the meeting that he has received nearly unanimous opposition to the proposal, which is in his district – District 3.

“I have no interest in seeing this fast-tracked,” Batson said. “This is going to affect the entire city. If we’re going to do it, we need to do it right.”

The meeting was organized by the Nason’s Corner Neighborhood Association, which became active last fall after about 10 years of dormancy. President Maya Lena said the meeting “went as well as it possibly could have,” given people’s passions around the issue.

“People are concerned,” Lena said. “People have questions and they want answers.”

She said people simply don’t believe a new shelter will be any different.

“We don’t have an example of a different model,” she said. “(Oxford Street) is what’s currently existing so that’s what people imagine it will be.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

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