The Comfort Inn & Suites in Scarborough has been the source of 187 emergency services calls between Jan 1 and May 12, but the hotel’s owner is collaborating with police to stem the number of calls. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

A hotel-turned-shelter in Scarborough has seen a significant number of emergency service calls so far this year, burdening the town’s public safety resources and putting the hotel’s license renewal in jeopardy.

The Comfort Inn & Suites on Route 1 is providing temporary housing for about 70 people placed there through The Opportunity Alliance, a social services organization in Cumberland County that helps people find temporary short-term housing.

The hotel has been the source of 187 emergency service calls between Jan. 1 and May 12, according to Police Chief Mark Holmquist, compared to 101 calls in all of 2021.

The Opportunity Alliance declined to comment for this story and referred questions to the Maine State Housing Authority, which helped fund some of the placements and services.

“We appreciate The Opportunity Alliance’s efforts, and also the efforts of the hotel management there,” said Scott Thistle, communications director at MaineHousing.

Scarborough Police and The Opportunity Alliance have been collaborating with the Comfort Inn’s new owner, AJ Dhillon, “to try and wrap our arms around the root cause of what’s going on down there,” Holmquist said.


Dhillon took over in March – a month in which public safety responded to 92 calls there. With a standard of three officers and one supervisor per shift, Holmquist said, the calls are straining the department.

“In March, we had a lot of time devoted to that location alone,” he said. “Officers would have to back each other up at the Comfort Inn and then they’d get another priority call in town that would leave an officer there alone.”

Since taking over, Dhillon has installed security cameras, working with the police to stem the number of calls.

“Whenever (the police) want the footage, it’s available to them,” he said.

Dhillon also has hired a private security company, which has already made an impact. The hotel had 33 calls in April, according to Holmquist, and is on track to have a similar number this month.

The cameras and extra security have helped, but Lauren Dembski-Martin, the police department’s social services navigator, said they are only part of a solution. She has spent roughly six hours per week at the Comfort Inn over the past month, providing the sheltered people with “light-touch” services, she said, such as helping tenants with applications for housing and SNAP benefits.


The people need more help, Dembski-Martin said.

“What we need more of is mental health services, more housing resources, more at the state level,” she said. “We’re putting this Band-aid on these individuals. The continuity of care and having secure housing, that’s kind of in limbo. It’s frustrating, but we definitely have been able to help some folks.”

The scenario at the Comfort Inn is not the same as it is in many of Southern Maine’s other hotels that are being used as homeless shelters,  Dhillon said. Those hotels are providing longer term housing to mostly domestic homeless people and asylum-seekers.

“Most of the people, we don’t have them here long-term,” he said. “They’re not (chronically) homeless. It’s basically somebody gets displaced and lost housing.”

However, some of the people are forced to stay longer than intended as they wait for permanent housing.

“Those waitlists can be months or years,” Dembski-Martin said.



The Town Council had scheduled a vote on Comfort Inn’s license renewal May 18, but tabled it until June 8 for further review and consideration of conditions it might attach to renewal.

License renewals are usually made by the town clerk, but the council is reviewing any hotel up for renewal that has had 30 or more emergency calls since the start of the year.

Four other hotel license renewals were tabled last Wednesday. Fairfield Inn on Cummings Road had 84 emergency service calls; Extended Stay America on Ashley Drive, 66;  America’s Best Value Inn on Route 1,  39; and Candlewood Suites on Roundwood Drive, 36.

The Opportunity Alliance has placed some people in those hotels, Holmquist said, but “definitely, the Comfort Inn is the leading client for Opportunity Alliance here in Scarborough.”

Not all of the emergency calls are directly related to the hotels, Holmquist said. Some can stem from incidents near a hotel and be attributed to that address. Among the Comfort Inn calls, for example, eight traffic stops and five non-criminal police calls were attributed to the location.


The Comfort Inn was also the source of 17 calls for theft, 14 for disturbance, 12 for drugs, 12 for mental health and 11 for criminal trespass between Jan. 1 and May 12.

The Town Council last week proposed a condition for all five hotels’ license renewals: The license will be revoked if the hotel generates calls that cause “unreasonable or undue burden on Public Safety.”  The council has also proposed two additional conditions for Comfort Inn’s licensing: It must provide “continuous on-site security” and have someone providing on-site services Monday through Friday, eight hours per day.

Dhillon is already meeting the security standard.

“We are new to town,” Dhillon said. “This is something we will comply with, whatever the town wants us to do.”

Thistle, at Maine Housing, said hotel owners like Dhillon are playing an important role.

“We appreciate the hotel owners who are willing to work and help provide this critical shelter,” he said. “Often, they get demonized a little bit because of these problems, but they’re doing a big service by providing a place to shelter these people.”

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