The Cumberland County Commission had denied the city’s request to use the Cross Insurance Arena as temporary day space and overnight shelter for the homeless. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — The Cumberland County Commission has unanimously shot down Portland’s request to use Cross Insurance Arena as a temporary space for day services and overnight shelter for the homeless.

Commissioners Monday cited the arena’s layout, an agreement with area hospitals to use it as an overflow care site for COVID-19 patients, and its commitments to the Maine Mariners hockey team among its reasons for denying the city’s request.

Capacity at the Oxford Street Shelter and the Portland Expo is limited to a total of 75 people due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Expo has been used as temporary shelter space since this spring, but has to be turned over to the Maine Red Claws next month so the G-League basketball team can begin preparing for the 2020-2021 season.

The Portland Expo has been used as a temporary homeless shelter during the pandemic. The Maine Red Claws will resume its use of the facility next month. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Use of the Expo has helped the city make sure there is proper social distancing at the Oxford Street Shelter, said city Communications Director Jessica Grondin. On Sunday night, she said, 42 men stayed at the Expo and 64 people, 29 women and 35 men, stayed at Oxford Street.

“This could be a potential help to the city of Portland and it could be a regional approach to addressing homelessness,” City Councilor Belinda Ray, chairman of the Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee, said last week.

The Cross Insurance Arena Board of Trustees recommended against granting the city’s request.

In an Aug. 25 letter to commissioners, board President Thomas Tyler said allowing the city to use the facility would be difficult because of the layout and size of the building and because of a plan in place to accommodate COVID-19 patients should area hospitals go beyond capacity.

In addition, Cumberland County Manager Jim Gailey said ice is expected to be installed in November for the upcoming season for the Maine Mariners, the ECHL hockey team that calls the Cross Insurance Arena home. The ECHL Board of Directors decided last month to begin the league’s 72-game schedule Dec. 4.

County Commissioner Neil Jamieson said he could not support the city’s request because of the arena’s current and future commitments.

“I think we need to go forward with the hockey contract and the other events to raise some income and take some of the burden off our budget and the taxpayers of Cumberland County,” he said.

“It’s pretty obvious it is not suitable for the homeless because of its size and shape,” County Commissioner Susan Witonis said.

Tyler said the trustees recommend that Gailey work with city officials and representatives of the Maine Red Claws to see if the team would be willing to play at the Cross Insurance Arena, which would allow the city to continue using the Expo as a temporary shelter was started there.

When basketball would return to the Expo is still up in the air.

“We have not received any information from the NBA regarding our start date or schedule yet,” said Evans Boston, senior director of public and community relations for the Red Claws.

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