SOUTH PORTLAND — The owner of the Days Inn and Comfort Inn near the Maine Mall said Friday that the hotels will stop hosting indigent people experiencing homelessness because of complaints he heard about a wide variety of problems affecting nearby businesses, their employees and their customers.

Suresh Gali, head of New Gen Hospitality Management, made the announcement at the end of a virtual meeting with at least 160 residents, business owners and others who were invited by city officials to address public safety concerns related to four local hotels that have been providing emergency shelter to people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suresh Gali

Suresh Gali, head of New Gen Hospitality Management, speaks during a virtual meeting Friday hosted by South Portland officials to address problems generated largely by indigent homeless people being housed at three of his company’s hotels. Kelley Bouchard/Staff Writer

Several business owners near the Maine Mall said that since the city of Portland has been housing people experiencing homelessness at the Days Inn and Comfort Inn, both on Maine Mall Road, they have been frustrated by the behavior of some guests. They described intoxicated and mentally unstable people who harass their customers for money, use drugs in their public bathrooms and defecate in their shrubbery.

Several said they have lost business because customers and employees are afraid.

“I understand people need a place to stay, but I’m baffled,” said Jim Beaulieu of the Jonathan Douglas Salon and Relaxation Studio near the Comfort Inn.

Chris Green, representing the Chili’s Restaurant that shares a parking lot with Days Inn, said he’s on the verge of filing a lawsuit.


“The status quo will not be acceptable,” Green said.

At the end of the nearly two-hour meeting, Gali told participants that he will not renew a contract with MaineHousing to provide emergency shelter at the Days Inn and Comfort Inn when the agreement runs out May 31.

“New Gen Hospitality agreed to work with the state with a goal to assist individuals where we thought we could,” Gali said in an email after the meeting. “We have heard the concerns of our neighbors and so at the end of our current agreement with the state, New Gen Hospitality will let our agreement expire.”

Some residents and business owners also complained about homeless people living at the Howard Johnson hotel that Gali’s company owns on Main Street/Route 1. However, he said that property now houses mostly families and asylum seekers, which will continue.

The pending loss of emergency housing at the Days Inn and Comfort Inn poses a significant challenge for Portland officials, who struggled to accommodate a growing homeless population long before the pandemic.

“It’s unfortunate we are in the position of having to identify other options for the 290 individuals who are currently being sheltered at these two hotels,” said Kristen Dow, Portland’s health and human services director. “We are actively working with MaineHousing and state officials to identify new emergency shelter space. We will continue to keep the community and our partners updated as we move forward.”


Dow noted during Friday’s Zoom meeting that less than one-third of 976 individuals housed at the Oxford Street Shelter in 2021 were from Portland; the rest came from all over Maine and beyond.

“We cannot continue to be an emergency shelter for the entire state,” Dow said. “Other municipalities are going to have to step up.”

Portland plans to build a 208-bed homeless shelter and service center to augment its existing shelters, but many say it won’t be enough to cope with the problem.

In recent months, the city has housed homeless clients in 10 hotels in Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Old Orchard Beach and Freeport. Many are asylum seekers, but the majority of complaints discussed Friday were about indigent people experiencing homelessness who appear to have substance use and mental health issues.

“MaineHousing remains committed to finding a solution and safe shelter for all who are currently being housed in the South Portland hotels when these contracts expire at the end of May,” MaineHousing spokesman Scott Thistle said in an email after the meeting.

Daniel Ahern

South Portland Police Chief Daniel Ahern speaks during a virtual meeting Friday hosted by city officials to address problems largely generated by indigent homeless people being housed in local hotels. Kelley Bouchard/Staff Writer

City Manager Scott Morelli kicked off the conversation saying that he invited 1,700 people to the Zoom meeting, which ran from 1-2:45 p.m. Participants, including City Councilor Linda Cohen, who represents neighborhoods near the hotels,  and Police Chief Daniel Ahern, filled several computer screens. Representatives of several social service agencies that work with homeless people and immigrants also attended the meeting.


Morelli went ahead with the meeting, which was closed to the wider public and news media, despite being warned by an attorney for the Portland Press Herald that it would violate Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. The city’s attorney told Morelli that the meeting would be legal.

A Press Herald reporter was able to observe the meeting thanks to a resident who believes in the public’s right to know.

Morelli called the meeting in part because of increased calls for police, fire and emergency medical services to the hotels. However, he said, calls for service have dropped in recent months.

Hotels discussed during the meeting included the Quality Inn on Main Street/Route 1, near the Howard Johnson hotel, which also is housing asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and Brazil.

However, several residents of the Thornton Heights and Sunset Park neighborhoods who spoke during the meeting said asylum seekers were welcome and not raising any concerns.

“I’ve had nothing but excellent experiences with people staying at the hotels,” said Jan, who lives in the neighborhood behind the Maine Motel.


“It’s a diverse and welcoming neighborhood,” Jan said, adding that the hotels should be allowed to provide emergency shelter for those in need until they find permanent housing.

In contrast, neighbors and business owners closer to Main Street/Route 1 described seeing an increase in drug paraphernalia and other trash, apparent drug deals and prostitution, theft, graffiti, harassment, trespassing, domestic arguments and other criminal or unsafe behavior they attributed to homeless guests of local hotels.

Darlene Panzino said there’s a difficult balance to be struck between the rights of people experiencing homelessness who deserve shelter and the rights of others to feel safe in their neighborhoods.

“Can you solve that really quick, Scott?” Panzino asked the city manager with a bit of laugh.

Morelli, the city manager, and Ahern, the police chief, promised to address concerns raised during the meeting.

“This is not a problem that’s going to go away quickly,” Ahern said. “This is the first step in trying.”

This story was updated at 7 a.m. on Feb. 26 to correct information about Oxford Street Shelter.

This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. on Feb. 26 to correct Linda Cohen’s district.

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