PORTLAND, Maine — A city-run homeless shelter will stay open around the clock beginning this week, offering new daytime refuge as winter weather begins to batter Maine’s largest city.
The Oxford Street Shelter on Wednesday will officially end its policy of asking people staying there to clear out in the early morning. The shelter began 24-hour-a-day service Monday as a “soft opening” and will remain open all day and night until a new shelter is built, a city spokeswoman said.
The change, which was announced earlier this fall, comes as the city is contemplating sites for a new, larger shelter amid longstanding public frustration with the concentration of people who are homeless, and sometimes addicted or mentally ill, in west Bayside and downtown.
“We’re changing our operations to address a critical need in our city,” City Manager Jon Jennings said in October. “Our goal is to provide our most vulnerable citizens with the option to remain in a safe place during the day with their belongings, which will improve their quality of life as well as the downtown area and surrounding community.”
As part to the shift to all-day operations, the city said it would hire additional staff, install lockers in the shelter and set up a portable bathroom next to it.
The change will cost the city an additional $340,000 for the rest of this fiscal year and was made possible by “salary savings over the last year,” city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said. In coming years, the expense of operating the shelter around the clock will be part of the annual budget, which must be approved by the City Council.
This is only meant as a temporary step.
In September, officials unveiled plans for a one-story, 200-bed shelter that they say will be less expensive to run and offer a greater array of services to homeless Portlanders.
A site for this new shelter has not yet been selected, but the city has identified more than 20 locations that would meet its regulatory guidelines about proximity to public transit.
Officials intend to begin scouting locations in January and select one by March, according to city documents.
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