The 154 “beds” at Oxford Street Shelter are actually mats on the floor 6 inches apart from each other. This past Monday night, with a wind chill 20 degrees below zero, the shelter put a roof over the heads of 257 people who are experiencing homelessness. This clearly demonstrates that many individuals are sleeping outdoors because of a lack of safe shelter. The number of people who sought a warm place to sleep Monday far exceeds the proposed 200-bed shelter, thus creating another problem before the new shelter even opens its doors.

Other cities have weather emergency plans for the homeless, and I urge the City Council to develop a similar action plan for Portland. Monday had a dangerous combination of a federal holiday with sub-zero wind chills. Public buildings were closed and the Oxford Street Shelter was overflowing. These situations are incredibly dangerous and lead to poor health outcomes and increased need for emergency care.

Providing housing is the ethical thing to do, and it save lives. People experiencing homelessness die 20 to 30 years before their housed counterparts, and last year 36 individuals died while homeless in Portland.

Housing is the solution to homelessness. Emergency shelters, hospitals and jails are the most expensive type of housing, and when individuals are housed, the utilization of these services decreases. A study done in Massachusetts in 2015 showed that for every one person housed, there was a $9,339 cost savings to the entire system.

Portland needs a comprehensive plan to address homelessness, including preventing people from losing housing, creating affordable housing and providing access to primary, mental health and substance use treatment and opportunities for economic mobility. Without a comprehensive plan to prevent and address homelessness, there will be a never-ending demand for larger and larger homeless shelters.

Courtney Pladsen


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