As a 20-year resident of Bayside, I have observed firsthand the impact of having a concentration of services located in this small area of Portland. I was selected by the City Council to serve on the 2012 Task Force to End Homelessness.

While I did not agree with all of the task force’s conclusions, I did concur that a concentration of services in Bayside is to be avoided and that shelters need to be spread out over the entire city. Bayside has the teen shelter, the family shelter, the Oxford Street Shelter, the Preble Street overflow shelter, the Preble Street courtyard and the Preble Street soup kitchen. These facilities’ impact upon Bayside is staggering. We have more calls for service by far than any other part of Portland.

Thirty or so years ago, the city agreed to welcome everyone who needed shelter. As a result Portland has become a haven for the homeless, with many communities in Maine and even, I’ve heard, in other parts of the country giving away bus tickets to Portland as a means of addressing their own homelessness issues. Besides not being sustainable, this victimizes the homeless by separating them from family and friends.

The city must continue to develop specialty shelters with partners, build a larger shelter in Riverton with on-site services and establish a women’s shelter – but on a small scale and in a place where women can feel safe from predators and abusers.

The city manager and City Council have taken positive steps, but now is the time to stop kicking the can down the road. The council should select the only viable option – city-owned land in Riverton – and install the necessary transportation system and other infrastructure needs. This is a step on the road to solving the crisis of homelessness in Portland.

Thomas Blackburn


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