Portland, Auburn facilities for addicts must kick out clients or lose money

Posted Oct. 27, 2011, at 5:11 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 28, 2011, at 5:28 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — To keep their federal funding, shelters and detox facilities in Portland and Auburn have been told they must reduce their capacity. This has left them scrambling to find places for their clients to sleep.

Dozens of homeless individuals battling substance abuse will be jettisoned from the Milestone Foundation’s India Street facility, which is tailored to their needs, starting Monday.

Douglas Gardner, director of the city’s Department of Health and Human Services, said Thursday area shelter officials have decided to open the Preble Street community center as an emergency overnight facility to temporarily provide the affected individuals a place to sleep, but admitted “we have no long-term solution.”

“We have folks who are in programs and they know where they need to be by 4:30 every afternoon, and that has been Milestone,” Gardner said. “As of Monday, that will no longer be an option. … We are concerned we’re going to lose folks in this process. They’re not going to find their way to the new location, or they’re not going to be able to handle this transition.”

Gardner said within the last two weeks, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced it had designated Milestone’s Portland facility, among others in the state, as an “Institution for Mental Diseases.” As such, he said, it can only legally have 16 beds for clients.

The Milestone Foundation’s India Street facility has 18 medical beds and 41 emergency shelter beds. The federal order means 43 Milestone clients will need to find places to stay on short notice.

At the Preble Street community center, Gardner said plans are to place mats on the floors for people to sleep on during the nights while a more permanent solution is developed.

“It’s not the best strategy, but because of Milestone’s commitment, they’re going to staff the place,” he said. “They have the unique skill sets to deal with this vulnerable population and the complications surrounding substance abuse.”

The Milestone Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides detoxification programs, emergency shelter and extended care services, among other things, for drug abusers and alcoholics. In addition to the foundation’s Portland facility, it operates another one in Old Orchard Beach.

Across the state, Gardner said, new Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services designations of substance abuse shelters as Institutions of Mental Diseases is displacing about 80 individuals who had been receiving treatment at the facilities. Institutions of Mental Diseases can have no more than 16 beds in order to continue receiving Medicaid funding.

Serenity House, which runs a 33-bed residential treatment program in Portland for men dealing with addiction, must also shrink to 16 beds. In Auburn, St. Francis Recovery Center, a rehab and halfway house for men recovering from addiction, will cut its number of beds in half — from 32 to 16.

Locally, the news compounds problems in Portland, where the ranks of homeless have come to regularly outpace the city’s available rooms for them.

Gardner said the city is placing more than 40 homeless individuals into overflow accommodations, at the Preble Street Adult Day Shelter, each night. The city’s Oxford Street Shelter has a capacity of 154 beds.

He said the city also is paying for five hotel rooms each night for families who cannot fit in the city’s family shelter, which holds 77 people, on Chestnut Street.

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