City officials said a temporary homeless shelter in the Portland Expo will be closed over the next day or two so the arena can be ready for voters casting in-person ballots on Election Day.

But the city has yet to cement a deal to use a Cumberland County facility as a temporary homeless shelter through the winter, so about 50 occupants of the Expo will be moved to an area hotel in the meantime. Those individuals will be allowed to stay in the hotel until an agreement is reached with county officials.

“All polling locations will be open,” Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said. “People do not have to worry about that.”

As of last November, the Expo was the polling location for about 5,625 of the city’s nearly 58,900 registered voters. Four years ago, roughly 2,200 ballots were cast at the Expo in the last presidential election. It is one of two polling places serving District 2.

The city has been using the Expo as a temporary shelter since March to ease overcrowding at the Oxford Street Shelter and comply with physical distancing guidelines of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which can spread quickly in congregate care settings and have devastating impacts on people with underlying medical conditions.

Officials announced last week that they would begin transitioning the 50 or so people staying at the Expo to the county-owned Community Corrections Center, which has been informally rebranded as the Joyce House.


Officials had hoped to make the transition by Monday. Besides using it as a polling place on Election Day, the city is contractually obligated to turn the Expo over to the Maine Red Claws professional basketball team.

But City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin said city and county officials have run into “minor issues” that have prevented them from signing an agreement. She declined to elaborate on those issues, saying they’re part of ongoing negotiations with the county.

County Manager Jim Gailey did not respond to questions sent by email.

Grondin said the hotel space is being paid for by the state. It was originally intended to allow the city to consolidate all of the single adults who are staying at various hotels into one facility. But now officials are using it for those who are staying at the Expo. She said that transition began Thursday and will likely continue into Friday.

Both Grondin and Snyder emphasized the need for the county facility.

“I don’t think anybody is walking away from this as a solution,” Snyder said. “This is taking longer than expected, but they’re continuing to work the issues.”


The Community Corrections Center is located on the same campus as the Cumberland County Jail, but is a separate building. It’s where low-risk inmates are moved when they’re nearing the end of their sentences, so they can begin transitioning back into the community. The facility has been empty since the spring, because of the high risk of transmitting the coronavirus in congregate care settings.

City officials announced last week that they would use the center as a temporary shelter through April 30. The facility has up to 44 rooms with a single bed, bathrooms, showers, a kitchen, several day spaces and an outdoor courtyard with a basketball hoop that’s fenced in.

The announcement sparked criticism from some advocates, who falsely accused the city of putting homeless people in jail. But the city reiterated that the facility would be staffed by city workers, not corrections officers, and anyone staying there would be able to come and go as they please.

Snyder said she is hopeful that the city and county officials can solve any outstanding issues with the contract. Either way, the city should be able to provide emergency shelter to anyone in need this winter.

“My sense is they will work through the issues that have held up finalizing the contract,” Snyder said. “In the event they can’t, I’m totally confident that city staff will have enough housing for everyone who needs it. I’m not worried that we won’t have enough warm beds in the winter.”

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