A warehouse is proposed to become a new homeless shelter at 90 Blueberry Road in Portland, but a nearby business suggests finding another site. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A proposed 280-bed homeless shelter in an industrial area of Portland has sparked concerns from some nearby businesses, who say the location at 90 Blueberry Road is not a suitable spot.

Ecomaine, a recycling and waste management company that is next door at 64 Blueberry Road, has urged the city and the shelter’s developer to find a different site.

“Blueberry Road is a very industrial area with far too many environmental health and safety hazards to place a residence here,” Ecomaine Chairman William Shane wrote in a letter to interim City Manager Danielle West. “Though services provided by the shelter is, without question, essential, the role of safe, reliable and environmentally sound waste management in our community is similarly essential – but they are at odds as neighbor.”

Kevin Bunker, founder of Developers Collaborative, says that the safety concerns are baseless and the need for shelter space in Portland is too great.

“There’s no real imminent danger to anyone being there. The imminent danger is that we have people arriving every day and we have nowhere to house them,” Bunker said.

MaineHousing announced in late March that it was granting $4 million to the Center for Regional Prosperity, the nonprofit arm of the Greater Portland Council of Governments, to develop an emergency shelter that could house 93 families. The center is working with Portland-based Developers Collaborative to “fit up” the building, formerly a furniture warehouse and factory, and then sub-lease the space to a local nonprofit that would run the shelter.


The grant is a part of the state’s push to address Portland’s homelessness crisis, which has reached new levels amid an influx of people seeking asylum. Over 1,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland since Jan. 1 amid an ongoing affordable housing crisis. Homeless advocacy organizations and the city are scrambling to meet the need for temporary, transitional housing with a spate of new public and private shelters including the city’s new emergency shelter at the Expo.

But the demand for shelter space is still outweighing the supply.

“These are unprecedented times because we’ve never seen these kinds of numbers in arrivals. But we’re also anticipating more people to arrive,” said Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.

Bunker said he also will be adding amenities, including bathrooms, a dining area and air conditioning. And in an office space, there would be a space for organizations to come and provide on-site services for housing navigation, case management, life skills and immigration services.

Some details are still being worked out, but Bunker said he envisions a model like the city’s new Homeless Services Center, which operates throughout the day.



After the announcement, Ecomaine’s board began discussing concerns about the location and how to address them, spokesperson Matt Grondin said.

Grondin said that the board doesn’t feel the families seeking shelter will be safe around the hundreds of trucks that visit the waste management facility each day.

“To house people who are really at their most vulnerable in an industrial setting … we have real concerns about putting a population that frankly is at risk in a setting like that,” Grondin said.

Ruth Libby, the owner of the neighboring business Ruth’s Reusable Resources, agrees that the area isn’t suitable for large numbers of families.

“Our first thought was like, ‘How are these families going to be walking up and down this road with strollers with little kids?’ These trucks don’t go slow at all. And (in) summertime, honestly, this smell can get really, really bad, and the flies build up,” Libby said.

Grondin said Ecomaine, which is a community-owned nonprofit, is ultimately concerned that the location of the shelter goes against the organization and the city’s shared mission for environmental justice.


Chitam agrees that environmental justice is an important factor that needs to be taken into consideration. But, she emphasized, the need for housing in Portland is currently too dire to turn down opportunities for more shelter space, especially one with onsite services.

“We want to work with what’s available and then make the best out of it,” she said.

The Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition is also depending on the Blueberry Road shelter to fill the gap of shelter space that will be lost when the coalition’s funding contract with MaineHousing comes to an end.

“The bottom line is to house 200 to 300 people that need shelter quickly, you need a large existing empty building. Those are few and far between in the city of Portland, and we have to take what’s available,” Bunker said.

Ecomaine isn’t sure what the solution is. There are small safety fixes, like adding sidewalks, but ultimately the company believes the shelter should be located elsewhere.

“We just really would urge the appropriate parties to try and engage another opportunity – one that is not right at the doorstep of an industrial trash and recycling facility,” he said.

Bunker, for his part, said he doesn’t have a solution either. He doesn’t currently see a need for one but is open to addressing changes that can benefit the shelter and its families.

He added that the fire department and Portland’s code enforcement officials have walked through the building “to make sure it’s going to be safe for everyone” and that they will be going through the permitting process with the Portland Planning Board in the coming months.

“My name is on the lease, I have a liability policy. It’s in my interest to make sure everyone’s safe,” he said.

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