SCARBOROUGH — The Fairfield Inn, located at 2 Cummings Road in Scarborough, has been used as an emergency quarantine and homeless shelter since January, but the need for an isolation shelter was a bit larger than first anticipated.

Funded by MaineHousing and operated through Preble Street, the shelter was initially designed to have 41 quarantine and isolation rooms as well as 73 rooms for individuals experiencing homelessness, Steven McDermott of MaineHousing, said during an update at the May 5 Scarborough Town Council meeting.

“What we didn’t know as we were planning for the transition (was) that an outbreak would be identified at a local emergency shelter on Jan. 26, with a second outbreak occurring at another emergency shelter on Feb. 4,” he said. “These outbreaks resulted in a significant more number of individuals needing quarantine or isolation than we had seen to date through the pandemic, which resulted in a paradigm shift in how we looked at utilizing the hotel and a shift in the staffing pattern that was needed by Preble Street and the services that would be provided on-site.”

The hotel did not offer emergency sheltering until Feb. 2, after which only eight beds were available, McDermott said. From Jan. 28 to March 1, 208 individuals used the shelter, and there were 80 individuals at the shelter from March 2 to April 28.

“Since then, the number of beds have rotated back to what we had previously expected in terms of ratio,” he said. “There’s an ongoing need for this type of temp(orary) non-congregate sheltering due to the reduced shelter capacity of traditional shelters and really the reduction and availability for access to traditional support, staying with family members, staying with friends in the community. Traditionally, young individuals may be able to couch surf, but due to fears of the spread of COVID-19, those resources aren’t available to them.”

The unprecedented and unexpected shift in need caused a bit of an uneasy start, said Town Manager Tom Hall. There has been good communication between town services and the shelter’s staff.

“We’ve been pleased with the responsiveness with the staff, and we also acknowledge that much of the population and the residents at the facility are experiencing short- or long-term chronic homelessness, and there’s often underlying reasons for that, whether that’s mental health or substance abuse, and so there are some challenges that come with that,” he said. “These are issues that we’re certainly not surprised with and we’re doing our best to help support them. We’re certainly pleased to have professional staff on site 24/7. I don’t think it would be workable without that, frankly.”

The shelter is utilizing FEMA’s public assistance program, good through Sept. 30, in order to operate, said McDermott.

“(W)e’ve been meeting with Preble Street staff weekly to plan develop and implement a depopulation plan that’s responsive to the individuals served and to meet the communities’ needs,” he said.

Staff has identified an eight-week period so that individuals at the shelter are prepared and various programs will assist with permanent housing solutions after the shelter is dissolved, McDermott said. The program will use a variety of new and existing services.

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