District 5 Councilor Mark Dion said residents in Portland’s Riverton neighborhood remain concerned with the decision to replace the Oxford Street Shelter, seen here, with a new one on Riverside Street. File

PORTLAND — With state funding “dried up,” City Manager Jon Jennings now wants a private partner to build a city-run homeless service center in Riverton.

The city would then lease the planned 200-bed shelter at 654 Riverside St. from the owner, Jennings said.

“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 a memo to the City Council before a Jan. 19 meeting.

As late as last summer, Maine Housing had told Jennings there was a possibility it could at least partially fund the new shelter, estimated to cost $10 million, but that is no longer an option.

“As we got into fall there were other needs for funding and unfortunately, the possibility of state funding dried up,” he said.

Councilor Belinda Ray said if the council supports Jennings’ recommendation, the city will continue to seek any state, regional or federal funding that might be available.


The council will hold a workshop Feb. 10 on the latest plan. In the meantime, Jennings will seek proposals and the council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee will review the responses before passing the plan on for a full council vote.

This is the latest snag in the homeless center project, which got off the ground in 2017 when the city proposed a full-service shelter to replace the city-run Oxford Street Shelter, which opened in 1989. Plans for the new shelter on city-owned land would provide on-site meals, medical and mental health care, substance misuse treatment, housing and job placement assistance and case manager services.

A parcel at Taft and Brighton avenues by the Barron Center was recommended in 2018, but that proposal fizzled after pushback from neighbors. The council finally landed on two options, the vacant site on Riverside Street or the Angelo Acre site, a city-owned parcel used for parking, on Commercial Street.

The council has had turnover since June 2019 when it settled on 654 Riverside St. as the site. Just three of the five councilors who voted for the Riverside location – Ray, Nick Mavodones and Spencer Thibodeau – are still on the council.

Some of the new members, including At-large Councilor April Fournier, have wondered if the location decision can be reconsidered.

Councilor Mark Dion elected in to represent District 5 where the new shelter will be located, said residents in the Riverton section of the city are still concerned about the project.


“No issue was more prominent in my discussions with people in the district than having the homeless services center on Riverside Street,” he said.

Their concerns do not stem from the location, he said, but rather size of the facility.

“What they are concerned about is the scale of the project. The 200-bed mega shelter idea has really struck a chord with my constituents,” Dion said.

Meanwhile, at the state level, Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, is working on several bills to provide housing, both temporary and permanent, for homeless people.

Brennan, a former Portland mayor, is co-sponsoring a bill to create a $50 million bond to support regional homeless shelters. He is also sponsoring a bill for a $15 million bond to create Housing First facilities, such as Logan House, Florence House and Huston House, which provide housing for the chronically homeless.

Other bills pending would increase affordable housing and mental health treatment across the state.

“For the last 30 years, the city of Portland has been talking about having a regional system of shelters across the state,” Brennan said. “This is a clear effort to do that.”

A regional system of homeless shelters, he said, would reduce the demand and pressure on Portland.

The bills, Brennan said, are in direct response to the impact COVID-19 has had on the homeless population and the demands expressed at the homeless encampment in front of City Hall last summer.

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