PORTLAND — City councilors postponed a scheduled vote Monday on operation recommendations for the Riverside Street homeless service center, saying they needed more time to discuss them.

“Our deliberations can benefit from the council having an opportunity in a workshop session, a more informal session, to ask questions to get a better idea,” said Councilor Nick Mavodones, who made the motion to put off the vote until the council’s Dec. 16 meeting and hold a workshop before then. “I think this an item that warrants that.”

Mavodones said he supports the work the Health and Human Services Committee has done to get the recommendations to this point, but a workshop will allow the council to “dig a little deeper” into the matter.

Putting off the vote until Dec. 16, Councilor Justin Costa said, will allow newly elected District 3 Councilor Tae Chong and Mayor-elect Kate Snyder to get up to speed on the discussion. It also means two people who have been part of the discussion over the last few years, outgoing District 3 Councilor Brian Batson and Mayor Ethan Strimling, will not be voting.

Batson, who voted against the postponement along with Councilor Belinda Ray, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said it made more sense “to act now with two members who have been part of this process the entire time.”

The committee for the last five months has gotten input on policies for the shelter from staff, other shelter operators and the public.


Last week, the committee, which also includes Batson and Councilor Pious Ali, unanimously passed recommendations that expand diversion and prevention tactics to prevent more individuals from becoming homeless and promote working with nearby municipalities on a regional approach for addressing homelessness. The recommendations also called for guidelines to be developed on services provided at the shelter, how criminal trespassing orders are issued and clients’ transportation to and from the shelter.

The committee recommends building a facility that has the capacity for 210 individuals (the average nightly count at the Oxford Street Shelter over the last 12 months) and the ability to handle overflow. It says a cap could be considered later if necessary.

The goal of the shelter, Ray said, is not to build a huge facility that houses everyone, but one that serves as a “stopping point” and provide services for those transitioning to more suitable and permanent housing.

Passing the resolution with policy guidelines for the new shelter, she said, is the next step in a long process to relocate the shelter from 203 Oxford St. to 654 Riverside St. A site plan would still have to be developed and get Planning Board approval. The goal, she said, is to construct the new shelter by 2021.

Although she voted to postpone, Councilor Jill Duson said she supports the recommendations.

“The committee has worked hard to produce a rational resolution and have asked many of the tough questions like cap, residency and access to service,” she said.


Jim Hall, who lives a few houses down from the current shelter, was pleased to see the city is “moving toward a better service model” for the homeless population.

“I urge you to pass this and move on to planning. It is not going to get better until you do,” he said.

Frank D’Alessandro, litigation and policy director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, said the committee’s recommendations are “an effective way to help homeless people.”

Many who spoke at the meeting Monday, however, saw fault in the recommendations, calling into question a potential capacity cap and the restriction of shelter services to clients. They said the Riverside Street location is too far from downtown, and others urged the council to better clarify how shelter residents will be issued criminal trespass orders.

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