Despite the opposition of many experts, the City Council voted last spring to change the makeup of a residential neighborhood by placing the emergency homeless shelter in Riverton.

This city-owned parcel, bordering the Presumpscot River and Westbrook, is five miles away from the current shelter.

The process leading to this decision was deeply flawed. Various city properties were eliminated, reality-show style, until the one deemed least practicable by experts remained. This surprising decision left citizens of Riverton shocked that a shelter of this magnitude was being planned in their neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, the city councilors most motivated to move the shelter were those who represented the peninsula, where property values are hindered by the current shelter.

Rather than find a forward-thinking solution that sought to distribute responsibility throughout the city, the council instead voted 5-4 to move the shelter as far away as possible from places that the homeless most need to access. One of the biggest flaws in the process was the insistence on using a city-owned parcel for the new shelter, which limited other options, including already-existing structures, or better-suited properties. Why not look for a parcel on the Fore River Parkway? What about the old Mercy Hospital? Or make it mandatory that hotels on the peninsula provide rooms, especially during the winter, as part of the price of doing business in Portland?

It is my hope that the new mayor and incoming council will revisit this unfortunate decision.

Jason Lambert


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