The city of Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter is not cutting it anymore. People who work or live in the neighborhood know this from experience. People who stay at the shelter will tell you that bedding and services are not up to par. But is the solution to move the shelter? Should we really be moving the shelter to an off-peninsula location that creates barriers for accessing services that are necessary?

I have been working in the Bayside neighborhood for the last six years and serving the people of this community. I know the wealth of services and providers that are in this neighborhood because I support individuals who access these services daily. I know that city councilors want the new shelter to entail services, which the current shelter site is missing, such as health clinics, soup kitchens, counseling and community policing on site.

That is all fine and dandy, but what people at the city may not understand is: What about people who are already established with providers in Bayside? What if they don’t want to have to start all over again with a new health care provider or new counselor? This population is extremely vulnerable, and building trusting relationships can be challenging.

Another issue that is a concern for me is transportation. The last I saw, the closest bus stop to the new shelter site in Riverton was half a mile away. This is another barrier that I do not feel is being considered.

I have heard that LogistiCare (MaineCare non-emergency transportation) would be transporting people to appointments, or that people would be getting bus passes. The bus system can be hard to navigate and overwhelming for individuals. Time management is not easy when you are homeless and life is chaotic. I don’t think that it is fair to ask people to adjust to a new location that is several miles from the city’s center. Currently, people can drop in our office as needed because our services aim to be low barrier. This new shelter would greatly challenge our clients’ access to services, which could end up being harmful for many individuals.

The new shiny shelter sounds great in theory, but I have some other issues with this shelter model. I have seen varying numbers for beds that this new shelter will have. Will it be 150 or 200 beds? While that is more beds than we have now, technically our shelter has had numbers over 200 occupants for several years. I have been in several community meetings in which these numbers have been shared.

I feel conflicted over the number of beds that have been talked about. I feel like we should have more beds for people rather than fewer. I also know from doing work in this community that several people are sleeping outside. Is the city going to count those people, who might access the new shelter if the conditions improved? I think the city should be thinking about these vulnerable folks because they have slipped through the cracks.

I do not think the city is purposely trying to create boundaries, and I think the city is getting a lot of pressure from Portland residents who have concerns about the shelter and the danger it may bring.  People would rather have poverty out of sight so that they do not have to deal with it.

I will tell you that things are going to get worse if people are not getting the help that they need. I know that the shelter will be providing more support than the current model, but I just don’t see how 200 or more people will get all their needs met in one building. People need to access primary care, medication-assisted treatment, case management, employment services and many other things that are within the Bayside community.

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