The Portland Planning Board approved the permanent 50-bed expansion of the city’s homeless shelter on Tuesday night.

The added beds were temporarily approved last fall in an effort to bring people inside as the weather grew colder and large encampments remained in the city.

Beds in the men’s dormitory at Homeless Services Center in Portland’s Riverside neighborhood. The shelter opened in March. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

The proposal was initially brought forth by City Manager Danielle West and went before the City Council three times before it was approved in November.

In a memo sent to the planning board Tuesday, Social Services Director Aaron Geyer urged the board to make the expansion to 258 beds permanent. He wrote that since the additional 50 beds were added, the shelter has averaged 222 people per night, exceeding its original capacity of 208. Geyer said that without the permanent expansion, it wouldn’t be possible to continue to serve everyone currently staying in the shelter.

The original proposal to temporarily expand the shelter was controversial and drew criticism from local advocates who worried that the shelter couldn’t properly support the additional load. They worried the space would be overcrowded, making it even less appealing for people living outside.

However, once the expansion finally went into effect late last year, the city has said, the beds quickly filled up and the expansion garnered widespread support on the council and from advocates.

The decision by the planning board is final and will not go before the City Council. City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said that decisions about emergency shelters are left up to the planning board as they deal with zoning regulations.

“It doesn’t rise to the threshold of something the council would approve,” she said.

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