Fatih Sagirli sits on a bench in a courtyard at the new Homeless Services Center in Portland on Wednesday. Sagirli stayed at the shelter Tuesday night, its first night of operation, and said that he liked the extra space compared to sleeping on mats at the former Oxford Street Shelter. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The lobby of Portland’s new Homeless Services Center was filled with people Wednesday afternoon, some catching a nap or watching TV.

Others ate and socialized in the nearby cafeteria, where coffee and oranges were available for a midday snack, or were enjoying the sun in the outdoor courtyard.

“It’s beautiful,” said Fatih Sagirli, who was among a dozen people spread out at picnic tables and benches.

“If you compare this with the other one, this is a five-star hotel with the beds, the bathroom, the showers and the cafeteria,” said Sagirli, drawing a comparison to the now-shuttered Oxford Street Shelter.

The city officially opened the Homeless Services Center last week, but Tuesday was the first time anyone stayed overnight. Sagirli was one of 208 people who got a bed at the shelter, which immediately reached capacity.

“Everything is going great,” Jason Chan, the center’s assistant director of operations, said on Wednesday afternoon. “The guests are loving it. The staff have been tremendous in keeping everyone happy and healthy and (keeping) the show going. It’s been so far so good.”



The new shelter has been years in the making and comes at a critical time as the city is seeing high levels of homelessness. Portland is currently providing shelter on a nightly basis to about 1,100 people using the new center, its Family Shelter, a school gym and area hotels. As of Monday, about 900 asylum seekers had arrived in the city since Jan. 1.

“We were full on Day 1,” Chan said. “With the influx of people we have coming … it’s really a state problem that has fallen on Portland to try and solve. We’ve had hundreds of people show up in the last few months with no place to put them.”

Jason Chan, assistant director of operations at the newly opened Homeless Services Center in Portland, said the shelter was full on its first night Tuesday. Chan is standing in the women’s dormitory of the new shelter. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The new shelter adds 54 beds to the city’s capacity and is being celebrated for environmental improvements and adding on-site services. While most guests at Oxford Street slept on mats on the floor, each guest now has an elevated cot contained in a cubicle-like area, each with its own charging station.

It was common to see people lining up outside the Oxford Street Shelter during the day to secure a coveted spot for the night, but Chan said that won’t be necessary now – everyone who stays at the shelter can reserve a bed again during a five-hour window the next morning.

“That will be very helpful for people who have to get to work or appointments,” Chan said. “This morning was the first run and it went pretty smoothly.”


The center also will offer an on-site health clinic, which is still being set up and could open in a few weeks, and meals prepared by the Preble Street Food Security Hub. Wednesday’s lunch menu included a salad, chicken and vegetables, or a vegetarian option of penne pasta with tomato sauce.

DeAnn Higgins sits on a bench in a courtyard at the new Homeless Services Center in Portland on Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Some homeless residents and advocates have expressed concerns about the center’s location on the outskirts of the city, though Portland officials have said that on-site services should help mitigate the need for people to leave the center, and there also is a free shuttle that runs Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Chan said.

He said he has heard some concerns from other service providers about the location, but not from guests.

The transportation “seems to be going smoothly,” he said. “We haven’t run into any hiccups yet, but we’re looking out for it. It’s only Day 2, so we’re ready to make adjustments and changes.”

Sagirli, who has been homeless for about a year since separating from his wife, said the center’s location is not a concern for him. “I don’t think it’s a big deal,” he said. “Actually, it’s better because it’s harder to reach drugs.”

The courtyard and street around the former Oxford Street Shelter were empty on Wednesday, a day after the city’s new Homeless Services Center in Riverton opened. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

DeAnn Higgins, who also stayed at the center Tuesday, does worry that it might be hard to get to doctor’s appointments, but she said she could try taking the shuttle or going to the on-site clinic when it opens. She likes that the center has more space than Oxford Street did.


“I think it’s a lot better. It’s a lot bigger,” Higgins said.


The city rented the former Oxford Street Shelter at 203 Oxford St., and officials have said it will be up to the building’s owner to determine what happens with it next. On Wednesday, signs were posted in the shelter’s windows in multiple languages alerting people to the fact that it is closed and providing a number they can call if they need assistance.

Signs in three languages on the door of the former Oxford Street Shelter on Wednesday announced that the shelter is closed. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The sidewalk and courtyard, usually overflowing with people during the day, were deserted.

But a short walk away, there were nearly two dozen tents set up along the Bayside Trail behind Trader Joe’s, and others could be seen further down the trail. Chrissy Russell, who has been living in one of the tents, said she stayed at Oxford Street when she first came to Portland from Sanford, but she didn’t like how the staff treated her and had some belongings go missing or get stolen.

She would like to get into the 40-bed Elena’s Way shelter run by the nonprofit Preble Street, but the idea of the larger center makes her anxious. With warmer weather coming, she also isn’t in a rush to find a place inside.

Chrissy Russell closes a screen door of the tent she is staying in at an encampment behind Trader Joe’s in Portland. She says that her PTSD and other mental health issues make her hesitant to stay at Portland’s new Homeless Services Center but that she might consider it when it gets cold again next winter. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“It just seems big and overwhelming for me,” Russell said. “I know there’s protection and people watching, but there’s that PTSD part of me that gets nervous.”

Russell is surprised by how many people are camping, and said they are in need of more services like warming centers, places to take showers and consistent meals. “I would think there could be more places they could go to,” she said. “It’s crazy how many people there are.”

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