City Manager Jon Jennings wants the city to outsource the planning and construction of a new, 200-bed homeless shelter near the Westbrook city line.

Jennings said in a memo to councilors that he’d like to partner with a private developer to “handle all portions of the project leading up to city occupancy.” The city would then lease the facility.

The City Council had set money aside last winter to begin the design process in house before the pandemic delayed the effort. Jennings cited a lack of state and federal support for the project in his latest memo to councilors.

“We believe this would be the fastest and most cost-effective way to establish the much-needed resource and leverage proven public-private partnership tactics which lead to on time and on budget projects,” Jennings said in his memo to the council.

The City Council voted in June 2019 to build a new homeless services center for single adults on a piece of city-owned land in Riverton. The facility would be built at 654 Riverside St. and include wrap-around services, including space for community service providers, a health clinic and soup kitchen for clients.

Jennings said staff have been exploring state and federal funding, in addition to a public-private partnership.

Mayor Kate Snyder said that planning for the new shelter, like so many other things, was put on hold because of the pandemic. It hit in March, a month after the council passed a resolution outlining policies for the new shelter. However, a homeless encampment that filled the plaza in front of City Hall for two weeks last summer returned those efforts to the forefront, she said.

“Many, many things got put on hold for many, many months because of COVID and everything else,” Snyder said. “Over the summertime, I think the urgency for follow-up to the resolution was there and the city’s staff started to work on options.”

Snyder said Jennings’ proposal is the most financially feasible plan, absent state or federal funding. Otherwise, the city would need to either pay up front for the construction costs or borrow money and incur interest.

Snyder said the city will continue to advocate for more regional and statewide partners in serving the homeless community, although she conceded that state finances have been stretched because of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

“I don’t think the city of Portland has made it a secret that we would like this work to be part of a regional and statewide approach to homelessness,” she said. “Portland can’t do this alone – we need to be part of a larger strategy.”

Staff plans to issue a request for qualifications and proposals in the first quarter of 2021, Jennings said in his memo, and the new shelter could be ready for occupancy within 24 months, depending on when the project is approved.

Jennings said in his memo that a request has been prepared, but neither he nor the city spokesperson nor the health and human services director responded to a request from a reporter to view it.

Snyder said she has not yet seen the request either, although she hopes it will be added to the next meeting packet. She said that the council’s Health and Human Services Committee would review responses to the request.

City officials have been laying the groundwork for years to build a new homeless shelter outside of Bayside, which has long been home to homeless shelters and other social services. The city changed zoning in 2017 to allow shelters in more locations throughout the city.

The city selected the Riverton site after a long and contentious debate. The site drew criticism from people who rely on the city-run Oxford Street Shelter, because it is located five miles from downtown, where other services are provided. Some accused the city of trying to hide the homeless on the outskirts of town and quickening gentrification in Bayside, which is now seeing an influx of commercial and housing development.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” Nick Vinciguerra, who was homeless before moving in with his girlfriend, told the Press Herald after the council’s 2019 decision.

City officials have said they are trying to break up the concentration of social services in Bayside because it makes clients more vulnerable to exploitation.

Jennings’ memo comes after the nonprofit social service provider Preble Street recently received approval from the city to convert the space at 5 Portland St. in Bayside into a 40-bed overnight shelter, which would prioritize people who are currently sleeping outside, rather than in any other city-run or nonprofit shelter.

The nonprofit submitted its application in September and the project was approved earlier this month. It was the first new shelter approved under a new conditional zoning rules that require applicants to detail its operations and outline plans for addressing neighborhood concerns.

Preble Street’s new shelter is replacing its day room, known as the Resource Center, which they closed at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Portland runs the only municipally operated, low-barrier shelter in the state. It also operates a shelter for families.

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