Portland city councilors enacted an 180-day moratorium prohibiting the approval of new homeless shelters in Bayside. The move will allow the city to finalize its homeless shelter licensing plans. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The Portland City Council Monday voted to enact a 180-day moratorium that prohibits the Planning Board from approving the construction of new homeless shelters or the expansion of existing shelters in Bayside.

The moratorium will not impact the homeless shelter Preble Street is constructing at 5 Portland St. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The moratorium will give the council’s health and human services and public safety committee time to finalize recommendations for city-wide emergency shelter licensing, officials said. Councilor Belinda Ray said the temporary ban, which extends into early December, may end in a month or two or whenever the licensing is finalized.

Mayor Kate Snyder, who along with Ray and Councilors Tae Chong, Mark Dion, Nick Mavodones and Spencer Thibodeau voted to enact the moratorium, said it will not “impact any services provided and it does not impact any shelter or service currently operating” in Bayside. It applies only to the section of the city between Interstate 295, Franklin Street, Congress Street and Forest Avenue.

Preble Street’s construction of a 40-bed shelter at its former Resource Center on Portland Street will not be affected.

Bayside has four emergency shelters, five overflow sites and more than 500 shelter beds, according to the city, and the moratorium will  prevent “a further exacerbating concentration of emergency shelter beds in an overburdened area while a shelter licensing scheme that makes homeless services better and more equitable is finalized.”

Heidi Sourwine, of Mechanic Street, supports the moratorium, she said,  because it will give Bayside residents of a reprieve, albeit temporary, from another shelter opening in their neighborhood.

“What we are doing isn’t working,” she said, referring to the clustering of homeless shelters and service providers in one section of Portland. “The licensing will improve the way we support those experiencing homelessness. This (moratorium) doesn’t impact existing, or approved shelters or new shelters from opening in other areas of the city.”

But John Wray, who has lived in shelters in the city ,said there is a benefit to having shelters and services in close proximity to each other.

“Look at it from our point of view,” Wray said. “Everything is right there where we need it.”

Those speaking against the measure, including Andrew Bove, who works at Preble Street, said enacting the moratorium “is bad public health policy during a pandemic.”

Planning and Urban Development Director Christine Grimando said her office does not have any applications pending for homeless shelters in Bayside. Preble Street has stepped back from an earlier interest in creating more shelters in the neighborhood, she said.  It had been looking into opening a shelter for women at the site of the Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter, but the plan now, Bove said, is to sell that  building or keep it for office space once the Kreisler shelter is relocated to the teen center on Cumberland Avenue.

The council’s health and human services and public safety committee is getting close to bringing its licensing language recommendations to the full council and was set to hold a public hearing June 8, after the Forecaster’s deadline.

The licensing could include provisions to limit the amount of shelters beds in one area of the city to 250, create a 2,500foot buffer between shelters and set performance standards and a fee structure for operating a homeless shelter. Draft language also gives the city council the power to review and approve applications for new shelters, but not before the police, fire, permitting/inspections and the health/human services departments have also reviewed it.

The licensing would also set out various performance standards and applicants would be required to submit an operation plan, floor plan and a contact information for a liaison to handle complaints from neighbors and file quarterly management reports.

These licensing requirements would not impact for shelters already operating in the city.

The city’s current codes don’t require buffers between emergency shelters or have bed density restrictions to ensure an area like Bayside is not over-concentrated with shelters.

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