Homeless shelters will be allowed in certain areas of South Portland as of April 10.

The City Council gave unanimous final approval Tuesday to measures that permit shelters of up to 100 people in the area of the Maine Mall and Portland International Jetport, and for shelters to accommodate eight to 39 people in the Mill Creek area and along parts of Route 1, Broadway and Cottage Road.

The number of people to be sheltered in the city will be capped at 200. This would allow, for example, two 100-person shelters to be built or two 50-person shelters and four 25-person shelters.

Shelters for up to seven people can be located in any residential zone because under state law they are considered to be single-family homes, similar to recovery residences and group homes.

City Manager Scott Morelli said Tuesday two groups have expressed preliminary interest so far in operating shelters in the city, but nothing is “near-term.”

Throughout a months-long process of drafting the amendments to zoning, licensing and building ordinances, councilors have stressed that South Portland will not be building and operating shelters itself, and it is a necessary step to avoid a hefty tax increase.


“A lot of people might have that misconception,” Councilor Richard Matthews said Tuesday. “This is about nonprofits coming in, and I know it’s a struggle, and I know a lot of people may be against shelters but, with the guidelines that we brought forward, it can really only help us with our general assistance (budget).”

Many unhoused people have been temporarily sheltered in hotels across the city. Intended to only last until the COVID-19 pandemic and social-distancing rules at Portland shelters subsided, state and federal funding to pay for those hotel stays has run dry. The city manager has previously warned that taxpayers would end up footing the bill if people continue to be sheltered at South Portland hotels.

The amendments explicitly prohibit lodging establishments from operating as shelters.

With a slew of requirements in place, a Planning Board approval process and annual shelter license renewal, city councilors said they feel comfortable that allowing shelters to be built in the city is the right path forward.

Shelters must provide services for mental health and substance misuse, on-site security, and transportation, they noted, and those services will ensure people receive the resources they need while also reducing the number of emergency service calls that have been coming from the hotel shelters.

Resident Barbara Everett suggested at Tuesday’s meeting that the council limit the size of shelters to 50 people and not allow more than one in each neighborhood.

“If you do multiple shelters in any neighborhood, I think it’s going to change the neighborhoods,” she said. “I’d like to see a cap of 50-bed shelters in four different neighborhoods … if you put two 100-bed shelters out by the mall, you’re going to drive businesses away.”

Councilors said shelters will not suddenly be popping up across the city in the near future and there will be time to make amendments if needed.

The proposed zoning for shelters in South Portland. Contributed / City of South Portland

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