PORTLAND — A decision on where to build a new shelter for the city’s homeless population is expected later this month.

The City Council on Monday delayed a decision on whether to move the shelter from Oxford Street to either a wooded parcel on Riverside Street or a small vacant lot on Commercial Street.

Councilors are expected to take up the decision again at their June 17 meeting. Mayor Ethan Strimling said he expects the council to select a site at that time.

“Hopefully June 17, we will decide our next step,” he said at the end of a three-hour public hearing, where more than 75 residents spoke.

City Councilor Belinda Ray, chairwoman of the council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee, said the city has been looking for a new shelter location since 2016.

After a recommendation to move the facility to land next to the Barron Center on Brighton Avenue fizzled due to concerns from the neighborhood in 2018, officials went back to the drawing board and looked at about 700 parcels across the city.

That list was whittled down, and in April, when a site on County Way was eliminated from consideration, the land at 654 Riverside St. and 451 Commercial St. rose to the top.

Jim Devine, an advocate with Homeless Voices for Justice, said many sites under consideration were eliminated without much public input. The two locations under consideration now are not satisfactory, he said: The Commercial Street property, known as Angelo’s Acre, is too small and the Riverside property is too far from city services.

Fellow advocate Carolyn Silvius said the Riverside lot is large enough to accommodate a shelter. But she agreed with Devine that it is too far removed from social services.

Homeless individuals, she said, need convenient access to job placement services, medical care and other social services to help them work their way out of homelessness. A shelter in that location, she added, would mean “isolating the homeless community and the resources it needs.”

Riverton residents expressed concern about the homeless shelter being on Riverside Street because it would abut the Presumpscot River and a dense forest, where it was feared people could overdose and not be found. Its proximity to Riverton Elementary School, which also houses a community center and a branch of the Portland Public Library, was also brought up.

“There are so many bad reasons to put it there,” Belfort Street resident Jeff Heller said of the Riverside site. “I am not sure how it made it this far.”

Jeff Coolican, of Beverly Street, applauded the council for working to find a solution, but said he doesn’t see the Riverton location as a viable option, especially with many in the homeless community opposed to it.

“We can’t force the homeless to stay in a shelter they don’t want to stay in. Shouldn’t they have a voice? It is supposed to be helping them. If they don’t want it, who are we helping?” Coolican asked.

But Cullen Ryan, executive director of Community Housing of Maine, said he prefers the Riverside location over Commercial Street because it provides the flexibility of creating a center that provides services the homeless need.

Residents from the neighborhood near Angelo’s Acre said a homeless shelter was not a good fit in their neighborhood for a variety of reasons.

Michelle McWilliams, a resident of Tate Street, said placing the homeless shelter there would reverse the work that has been done over the years to make Harborview Memorial Park, beneath the Casco Bay Bridge, a safe place for kids to play.

Mike Alfiero, who owns a business on the waterfront, said the area around Angelo’s Acre can be unsafe and dark at night.

“I don’t understand how we could put a homeless shelter here. We need to support them and find a solution, but I don’t think it is there,” he said.

Beth Clark, of York Street, asked the city to remove Angelo’s Acre as a potential site because it is too small, not on the METRO line, not accessible for those with mobility issues, and not buffered enough from nearby neighborhoods.

“It seems insane to me such a long process could deliver such a poor choice,” she said.

While most spoke against one of the two sites, some at the meeting, including Hanover Street resident George Rheault, encouraged the city not to look for another location for the shelter, but rather keep it where it is and renovate it.

Others wanted to see the County Way location brought back for consideration.

But City Councilor Kimberly Cook said that is not possible at this time. She said the Maine Department of Transportation has taken off the table a land swap that would have made a shelter there possible.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter:@mkelleynews

Portland residents wait their turn Monday, June 3, to comment on where the city should place a new homeless service center. Many of the more than 75 speakers at City Hall argued neither of the two proposed locations are appropriate.

Portland City Councilor Belinda Ray, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee, speaks at Monday’s meeting, where councilors decided to delay a decision about a new homeless shelter until their June 17 meeting.

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