Tents shelter the homeless at City Hall Plaza in Portland. On Jan. 20, the Scarborough Town Council and Police Chief Robert Moulton discussed the problems that homeless people face in the winter months in Maine and approved the means for an emergency wellness shelter in a Scarborough hotel.  Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

SCARBOROUGH — Through MaineHousing and Preble Street, a local hotel will be able to provide emergency and isolation shelter for the homeless after approval from the Scarborough Town Council on Jan. 20.

The council’s approval authorizes the town manager to execute the Certification of Local Approval for Nonprofit Organizations, allowing funding from the Emergency Solutions Grant funds.

Organized and funded through MaineHousing, the shelter will operate out of a hotel in Scarborough, and the nonprofit organization Preble Street will provide staffing, said Town Manager Tom Hall. The agreement will serve two purposes, providing quarantine for those who don’t have other access, and offering emergency shelter through the winter months.

“The emergency shelter portion is really focused on the challenge we have in Maine this time of year with the winter months,” Hall said. “That use really is focused to extend through April, whereas the quarantine needs may well linger longer. It will really depend on how the pandemic continues in our community and whether that need exists.”

Some of the most acute needs through the pandemic have been about housing, said Hall.

“It’s worth noting that MaineHousing has done this sort of thing very successfully elsewhere in the state over the last nine to 10 months, for all the same reasons that exist today, frankly,” he said. “I personally was very gratified and pleased to hear the partnership with Preble Street. They’re in a position to provide fulltime onsite staffing, including services and supervision.”

A memo to Hall from MaineHousing said that the emergency wellness shelter will provide 73 rooms and the quarantine shelter will operate in 41 rooms.

“The project will provide 24-hour shelter including onsite staffing to both populations,” the memo said. “The wellness shelter will serve adults experiencing homelessness and provide a warm, safe sleeping space during the winter months and access to basic needs such as bathrooms, showers, and food, with program design integrating known shelter best practices with recommendations from medical professionals to reduce the risk that clients will contract and transmit the COVID-19 virus.”

Councilors John Cloutier, Jean-Marie Caterina and Don Hamill spoke in favor of the agreement, and the council voted unanimously to approve it.

“I think this service we get out of in Scarborough very cheaply and is something we should be participating in more,” Cloutier said. “We’re giving  our property owners a chance to stay solvent while helping to solve a real dire problem in the area.”

In Scarborough, homelessness has a variety of circumstances and causes, said Police Chief Robert Moulton, who received information from Lauren Dembski, Scarborough’s social services navigator.

General assistance funds do not cover the costs of Scarborough hotels, motels or rentals, Moulton said.

“(I)n some of the shelters, like Oxford Street Shelter, because of COVID people can’t go there unless they’ve been there before,” Moulton said. “Someone in that situation suddenly finds themselves homeless — they can’t go to the shelter because they haven’t been there before.”

Some people are trying to escape domestic violence or abuse situation, and when shelters are full, advocates cannot afford hotel costs, Moulton said.

Homeless individuals with significant mental health issues can have a hard time accessing community support as the waitlist is six to eight weeks, he said.

“And then there have been some who have suddenly lost employment or housing or find they can no longer afford where they’re staying,” Moulton said. “In those situations, we’re looking to explore other possibilities that are more financially reasonable.”

MaineHousing said that it has made agreements with nine different hotels across the state, with over 900 individuals utilizing the shelters.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: