South Portland is enacting two new ordinances related to people experiencing homelessness within the city. One ordinance allows the establishment of homeless shelters in South Portland. The other ordinance will require hotels that are operating as homeless shelters to return to normal operations. Essentially, an establishment can be a commercial lodging business or a homeless shelter, but not both.

South Portland’s new logo. Courtesy image

During the coronavirus pandemic, hotels being used as a shelter became more of a norm, supported by state and federal funding. The funding expires on April 30 and May 11. The new ordinances will reposition the city’s response to homelessness in conjunction with the funding’s expiration.

“For the first time there is a pathway to creating safe, legal homeless shelters in South Portland,” said City Manager Scott Morelli. “The need for this is clear, and we look forward to working with entities that may be interested in establishing a shelter in the city.”

Shelters with capacity of up to eight people will be allowed in various places within South Portland. Shelters with a higher capacity will be allowed in certain zoning districts. Shelters will be required to follow health and safety standards.

“We have tried to really enforce enabling a structure that allows entities like non-profits to provide the support and help they need in terms of temporary housing but also have emphasized safety and service to people,” said Mayor Katherine W. Lewis at the March 21 city council meeting.

The city itself is not planning to create or operate a shelter.


Shelters are being divided into three sizes. Large-scale shelters will accommodate 40 to 100 people and need special approval from the planning board. Medium-scale shelters will have capacity for nine to 100 people and also needs the planning board’s permission. Small-scale shelters have a capacity of up to eight people.

South Portland will allow up to 200 people in the shelters between the medium- and large-scale shelters. The small-scale shelters have no limit in the city and are allowed wherever residential development is allowed. The small-scale shelters have been added to the city’s definition of a “community home” that details a licensed single-family property that houses people with disabilities.

The ordinances were passed in a final reading in the city council on March 21. The ordinances went into effect on April 10.

Recently, South Portland has also allocated $2.7 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funds to a number of organizations with programs to aid homelessness in the area.

For more information about the ordinances passed and the city’s response to homelessness, visit The city council’s meetings and related documents are available at

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