People await lunch Friday at Preble Street in Portland. To keep crowds under 10 people per the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, Preble Street is offering only takeout meals. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — Organizations that cater to some of the city’s most vulnerable residents are finding it increasingly difficult to continue those services and some have suspended them indefinitely.

Health precautions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic have caused Preble Street Resource Center to change the way it provides daily meals, the city’s shelters have put new protocols in place, Amistad has suspended all support services and Milestone Recovery has temporarily halted a key outreach program.

Milestone Recovery has suspend its detoxification services, its 12-step programs and its Homeless Outreach Mobile Efforts until further notice due to concerns of coronavirus spread. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

“We are still preparing food and plan on continuing to feed people, but we are doing that to-go,” said Preble Street’s Executive Director Mark Swan. “That is considered best practice right now for the crisis we are in. That is what everybody is doing.”

The Preble Street Soup Kitchen serves about 300 people during each of its breakfast, lunch and dinner sessions, but Swann said he worries that number may rise as the coronavirus takes a greater hold in the community.

“We are expecting things to get worse, not better, as people lose their jobs and go without a paycheck,” he said. “Now the numbers are steady, but looking ahead gives us great concern about our capacity.”

Capacity depends on food supply, staffing levels and the number of volunteers, he said.

Last week, the organization received a large surplus of food from restaurants and schools, like the University of Southern Maine, that are no longer providing meals.  That surplus, however, is expected to be drained quickly, he said.

Many of Preble Street’s other services, including case management, veteran housing services and advocacy, are being done remotely, but Swan said the Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter, Florence House, Logan Place and Huston Commons will remain open and operational.

“We have a deep commitment to continue offering services,” Swan said. “I can’t imagine a scenario or what would happen if we couldn’t keep those programs open.”

The city of Portland has continued to operate its emergency shelters although under slightly different protocols. At the
Oxford Street shelter, for example, head to toe sleeping has been instituted to increase space between clients. Quarantine space for up to 36 people has been made available at the Family Shelter if needed.

“We have an emergency action plan in place that we’re following as we continue to provide emergency shelter and housing services to our clients,” said Kristen Dow, director of the city’s Health and Human Services Department. “If the situation in our shelters required additional measures, we will respond accordingly. We are in communication with the Maine Health and Human Services Department about ideas that are being developed at the state level for additional homeless shelter space should it be required.”

Unlike last summer when an emergency shelter for hundreds of asylum seekers was set up at the Portland Expo, city workers would be unable to staff a similar satellite shelter now.

“The effort over the summer was very labor intensive and is not something that could be duplicated for this situation,” according to a March 20 press release from the city. “It required the assistance of the state and many volunteers, all of whom would not be in a position to assist in the same way at this time.”

The center could be used as a place for medical care if local hospitals are beyond capacity, the city said.

Amistad and Milestone Recovery, have decided to temporarily close some of their offerings.

Amistad, which offers peer support programs for individuals dealing with mental illness, substance use disorder and chronic homelessness, has canceled all services at its facility at 66 State St. until mid-April.

Milestone Recovery, at 65 India St., is putting a freeze on its detoxification program intake until April 1 and is suspending its Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement team until it is safe to resume. The daily 12-step program at Milestone will be not held again until at least mid-April. Milestone’s emergency shelter will continue to operate, but under new screening protocols.

“We have converted our detox floor in the building into a shelter annex so we can create more separation for our guests,” said Executive Director Bob Fowler.

The shelter provides temporary housing for 41 men who are dealing with substance misuse and the detoxification program typically services 120 people a month.

Fowler said while people needing detox may be able to go to another facility or hospital in the city for treatment, the Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement team is one of a kind in the city. The team has more than 10,000 contacts with homeless individuals annually and offers daily outreach, mobile health care, crisis intervention, referrals and transportation to and from appointments for “individuals who are homeless, highly intoxicated, experiencing mental illness or engaging in disruptive behavior,” Milestone says.

“These decisions were not made easily or lightly, but are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus and to protect the health of our clients and staff,”  the organization said in a statement.

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