Representatives from Homeless Voices for Justice, Greater Portland Health, Preble Street, the Maine People’s Alliance and other groups set up for the Longest Day of Homelessness Summer Solstice Sit-out Tuesday in Monument Square in Portland. The event is held annually to raise awareness about homelessness in the city and state. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The city of Portland is looking for an organization to help establish a daytime center for the homeless, a place where they can eat, receive mail, connect with service providers and get in out the elements seven days a week.

Jim Devine and Ben Martineau, members of Homeless Voices for Justice, said a day space is critically needed, especially in the wake of the pandemic that shut down the Preble Street Resource Center.

“If the city is looking into opening a day space, that is a great idea,” Devine said Tuesday morning during the group’s Longest Day of Homelessness Sit-out, an annual event to draw awareness to homelessness in the city and across the state. Devine has been a member of the group since 2000.

The center would be similar to the Preble Street Resource Center, which closed in April 2020. The Resource Center had provided three meals a day, bathroom facilities and showers, and help in obtaining services. Running the drop-in center and serving 300-400 people a day was not viable during the pandemic.

“It was not an easy decision, that’s for sure, but the post-COVID 19 world will look a lot different for homeless services,” Executive Director Mark Swann told the Forecaster in June 2020.

Preble Street now plans a 40-bed shelter at the Resource Center space.

Both Devine, who is housed now but was homeless off and on over the years as he dealt with alcoholism, and Martineau, who was homeless for parts of 2005 and 2006, frequented the Resource Center when they were homeless.

“It was like its own community center,” Martineau said. “When it first closed, it was a big loss.”

Getting a new day center up and running would be funded through $237,916 in federal Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions Grant funding that the city received as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The money must be used to “prevent, prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“My office was asked to identify the needs in our community. One of them that was very obvious was for us to provide some sort of day space,” said Kelley Walsh, the city’s housing and community development program manager, who oversees the CDBG program.

In its request for proposals for the day center, the city says that since the pandemic,  “the social service landscape and resources available to the homeless population has drastically changed.”

‘The closure of local social service centers and programing has created many barriers and challenges for the homeless community, specifically in relation to accessing day space, meal and most recently mail services. Emergency food services are currently using a mobile food distribution model, providing bagged meals for shelter guests and take-away meals for those that are unsheltered in the community,” the city says.

That model, however, “has created a challenge for the community, as some current shelters lack appropriate meal space, guests consume meals in makeshift dining areas.”

The day center is intended to be temporary, Walsh said, until the city’s new homeless services center in Riverton is operating.

Staff from the city’s Housing and Community Development and Health and Human Services will review the applications to set up the center, which are due back to the city by 4 p.m. on June 30. City Manager Jon Jennings will make the final selection

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