State funding for social services for the unhoused who are being sheltered at a Scarborough hotel ran dry earlier this month and it’s now up to the town to decide what to do about it.

The Comfort Inn on U.S. Route 1 earlier agreed to the town’s licensing condition that it provide social services for those guests and, in the wake of the Opportunity Alliance pulling its employees from the site, is now in violation of that agreement. Town Manager Tom Hall must decide whether to penalize or fine the owner if the hotel does not resume providing services.

The Scarborough Town Council at its Nov. 16 meeting voted to give Hall the authority to pursue repercussions for owner AJ Dhillon. Councilors emphasized that doing so assures that those being sheltered at the Comfort Inn receive the resources they need.

“This is about trying to help ensure the safety of the people that are residing there,” said Councilor John Cloutier. “We’re not revoking the (hotel’s) license, we’re not trying to accelerate what the owner has already planned to do. We’re trying to hold him to his word.”

Dhillon was not at the meeting.

“I take this authority and will use it with discretion,” Hall said. “I think our goal is really to assist and find ways to keep compliance with the conditions in place. I would be pleased to avoid fines and penalties if we can accomplish that but, if not, I think we need to have that available as an option.”


Comfort Inn is in the process of moving the sheltered residents out of the hotel in three phases, and the first phase was completed earlier this month. As of Nov. 16, 23 of the 69 rooms were vacant. According to a transition plan put in place in September, another third of the rooms are to be vacated by Dec. 1 and the final third by Jan. 1.

“For all intents and purposes, it looks as though the transition plan is pretty much on schedule,” Hall said. “I expect there will be several current guests at the Comfort Inn that may wind up lingering a bit longer than the first of the year. There are unique circumstances, that shouldn’t be a surprise, that need to be respected and worked with.”

A mounting number of 911 calls stemming from the hotel sparked the council to impose conditions in September. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 15, there were 349 calls for emergency services and 417 associate offenses at the Comfort Inn, according to Police Chief Mark Holmquist.

The Opportunity Alliance, which placed people at the hotel, began providing two full-time staff members to assist guests by providing case management and, as needed, connecting them with long-term support for substance abuse and mental health issues. However, emergency rental assistance, which funded those positions, ran out earlier this month and the two Opportunity Alliance staff members at the Comfort Inn lost their jobs.

“We had to lay off 43 staff, we served all of Cumberland County hotels (acting as shelters),” Mary Cook, ERA program director for The Opportunity Alliance, told the council. “These two staff, who are with me tonight, were doing amazing work in the short time they were there … They developed strong relationships with the guests at the hotel. We were seeing immense progress with the overall culture of the hotel. We were very saddened to have to remove this staff.”

Many of those being moved out of the hotel will not be housed this winter, Cook said.


“We are anticipating that the households displaced from the Comfort Inn will be forced into even more unsafe living conditions or unsheltered homelessness,” she said.

The conditions placed on the hotel’s license renewal in September require on-site security and an on-site coordinator five days a week for eight hours per day to provide social services for “medical, food, transportation and other needs.”

According to Hall, Dhillon, the owner plans to pare back security from five days per week to four, which was deemed acceptable by the police department.

However, Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said she won’t stand for social services disappearing and called on Dhillon to find a way to fund replacement services.

“We absolutely need social services there. I’m sorry, you can’t just yank it out,” Caterina said. “I was really disappointed with the feds and the state for not having social services included with this housing, that’s ridiculous. You warehouse people and then you don’t give them any services? That’s nuts.”

Orlando Perez, who identified himself as an advocate of the homeless at the Comfort Inn said the council was not hearing “the positives” in their regular updates on the situation at the hotel.


“There are those who are busting their behinds trying to find that housing that you’re so adamant that we get,” he said. “We’ve had three deaths there that had nothing to do with drugs or violence of any nature. There are old people or people who were infirm.”

One of those who recently died was his friend, Perez said.

He also claimed he has had trouble cashing checks and using food stamps at local businesses, and that the hotel is not receiving food now that there are no services in place.

Councilor April Sither asked Hall to ensure food is being provided to those at the hotel.

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