Portland officials have unveiled a plan to consolidate social services and public health programs, including clinical services offered at India Street, under one roof in a new downtown location.

The plan, laid out in a memo to a City Council committee that oversees the department, would consolidate programming and staff at four locations to 39 Forest Ave., an office building between Congress Street and Cumberland Avenue.

Kristen Dow, the city’s health and human services director, said the space will be better for both staff and clients, who often utilize multiple city programs and multiple locations. Those services would be under one roof.

She said the move will not only allow the city to maintain its current programming, but to expand and improve it, including a new program designed to divert people from needing to use the emergency shelter by connecting them with other services or helping them reach family members for support.

“This is such a positive thing for the department and for the city and for the people we serve,” Dow said. “I see this as a holistic approach to health and human services at the city (level) and really wrapping around these services in one location to better serve the city of Portland.”

The new office would have more space for programs, including counseling rooms for the Portland Free Clinic, which serves low-income patients. It will also have a larger waiting area, Dow said, so people will not be forced to wait outside on the sidewalk. And it will have additional space for training sessions, including overdose recognition and response.

Dow said the space would be used to start a homeless shelter diversion program, similar to one used at the Pine Street Inn in Boston.

Dow said new arrivals to the shelter would be registered at the Forest Avenue location, where staff will try to avoid placing people in Portland’s emergency shelter by attempting to resolve any disputes between the clients and landlords, enrolling clients in prevention case management or attempting to reunite individuals with family members. If emergency shelter is the only option, Dow said, that individual will be taken to the overnight shelter.

The relocation plan, which would affect about 85 full-time employees currently working at City Hall, facilities on Lancaster Street and India Street and the Reiche Community Center, will be presented to the council’s Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday.

Dow said she has already begun outreach to community groups and partners, an effort that would intensify in the coming weeks, including discussing the proposal with people who access services at the India Street Public Health Center.

Cary Tyson, executive director of Portland Downtown, which represents local property owners in the business district, said he was just informed of the city’s plan Friday afternoon and had not had time to digest all of the details.

“We will definitely be following it,” Tyson said. “They (the city) have been great partners and I have have every expectation that would continue.”

According to a memo to the committee, city officials hope to begin renovations on the new building in June, and to relocate General Assistance and other social service programs from Lancaster Street by July 1. Staff currently working at City Hall, and those in the minority health and the maternal and childhood health programs working out of the Reiche Community Center, would relocate sometime in July.

Buildout of new clinical spaces for the India Street Public Health Center, including the needle exchange and the HIV/STD testing, and the Portland Free Clinic would occur in late summer through fall, with relocation happening in November, according to the memo.

Dow said the new location is easily accessible to public transportation and would have 10 parking spots, similar to the parking available to India Street clients.

Two security guards would be onsite and no overnight accommodations would be provided there, the memo said.

The city currently leases office space on Lancaster and India streets at an annual cost of $174,414 and $69,362, respectively. Dow said both leases expire this year and each building has had maintenance issues in recent years. The memo says India Street experienced a water main break last fall, forcing it to close for 10 days, and has ongoing security issues. And Lancaster Street has had plumbing, electrical and ventilation issues.

Dow said councilors would have to approve a new lease at 36 Forest Ave., which would cost about $277,500 a year, for the plan to move forward.


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