Members of the city’s health and human services and public safety committee has asked city staff to provide them with policy recommendations as to how they would like the new homeless shelter on Riverside Street to operate once open. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — A city-owned parcel at 654 Riverside St. has been chosen as the site of a homeless shelter, but there are still a lot of decisions to be made as to how the shelter would operate before it can be designed and ultimately constructed.

The Oxford Street Homeless Shelter in Portland has been operating for about 30 years. The former apartment building and auto garage lacks a soup kitchen and demand for bed space often exceeds the available beds. Shawn Ouellette/Staff photographer

The new shelter would replace the 30-year-old Oxford Street Shelter and provide 150 beds, as well as on-site meals and a range of health services, case management, employment assistance, substance use treatment and other social services.

Last week, the health and human and public safety committee tasked city staff to come back with a list of policy decisions before the group’s meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 8.

Belinda Ray, chairman of the committee, encouraged the community to share their thoughts with health and human services staff as to how they would like to see the shelter run.

“I think it would be better to have you, as the experts, create some proposals that we can then work with,” Ray told Health and Human Services Director Kristen Dow, Oxford Street Shelter Director Sara Fleurant and Social Services Director Aaron Geyer at a Sept. 10 meeting.

Dow said she intends to work with community social service partners in coming up with recommendations.

“Everything we decide to do will have a ripple effect,” Ray said. “It is important providers and the advocates for the population we are serving are involved from the beginning,” she said.

Policy questions that must be addressed include: Will there be a residency requirement; will those who are intoxicated be restricted; should there be a cap on the number of those living at the shelter; what should the intake process look like; will only shelter stayers be able to access services and how will transportation to and from the shelter be handled?

Stephanie Neuts, a resident Riverton, told councilors in an email that she would prefer to cap the facility at 90 individuals, with 25 at most in overflow.

Neuts would also like to see a greater police presence to make sure people are not camping in the woods behind the shelter or doing drugs or other illegal activities, as well as intake being done off-site, imposing a three-day maximum stay for residents from outside the state.

Councilor Kimberly Cook said she would prefer to set a cap and focus on the homeless living in Portland.

“It seems a way to serve those in our community and to the extent we have capacity, serve those from a wider catchment area,” Cook said.

At the meeting, the committee and city staff seem to be leaning towards making the services at the new shelter to be available only to those staying there, much like the policy at the existing shelter and the one used at the emergency shelter set up this summer at the Portland Expo.

“I think that was a really good example of how something can be all-inclusive, but that does mean it would be for guests of the shelter only,” Dow said, referencing the Expo.

“Having people coming in and out of that really compromises safety, security and services. It makes sense to me the people who are guests at the shelter, have gone through intake, those are the people accessing the services,” Ray said.

Councilors Brian Batson and Pious Ali said they have not made a decision yet as to who the shelter would serve, but do have concern with how those staying at the shelter will get to and from the Riverside location.

“I do think we need to codify some sort of transportation plan into our policy,” Batson said.

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