Limiting the number of people who can sleep and access services at Portland’s proposed homeless services center will exacerbate pre-existing health conditions and create new ones for those experiencing homelessness in our community.

We already know that, compared to their sheltered counterparts, individuals experiencing homelessness suffer from significantly higher rates of physical and mental health conditions as well as substance use. These data are relevant here in Maine because there are 1,215 people statewide experiencing homelessness, an increase of 8 percent compared to 2018. More locally, the number of people seeking shelter from the Oxford Street Shelter has remained stable at 200 to 230 per night.

I am a medical student who recently spent four weeks caring for those experiencing homelessness in Portland. During this rotation, I saw firsthand the health consequences of being unsheltered. Respiratory and skin infections, sleep deprivation, trench foot and frostbite are some of these issues, all of which can lead to serious complications.

Furthermore, not having a roof over one’s head makes it extremely difficult to control chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and mental health and substance use disorders.

For these reasons, I oppose setting a cap on and restricting access to shelter services. Such limitations would lead to worse health outcomes for those lacking shelter.

Historically, Maine has been a national leader when it comes to providing shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Let’s keep it that way.

William Hirschfeld


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