May 22, 2019
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Portland residents blast plan for new ‘mega-shelter’

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The top floor of Oxford Street Shelter awaits the night's occupants in this BDN file photo from Portland.

Residents of a Portland neighborhood where the city manager has proposed building a large new homeless shelter excoriated the plan at a Monday City Council meeting.

Although nothing related to the 200-bed shelter was on the council agenda, more than a dozen residents of Nason’s Corner came to City Hall to make varied arguments against what they repeatedly called a “mega-shelter.”

The city has long been looking to replace its aging and overcrowded shelter on Oxford Street. In June, City Manager Jon Jennings announced the city would seek to place a new shelter near the Westbrook city line, adjacent to The Barron Center, a city-run nursing and rehabilitation center.

[Portland may build state’s largest homeless shelter miles from downtown]

On Monday, one person after another called on the council to slow development of the new shelter — which Jennings initially said he hoped to break ground on around March of 2019 — critiquing what they characterized as a hasty and haphazard process.

“We do have an emergency on our hands,” said Gloria Sclar, echoing a term Jennings has used for the current situation at the Oxford Street shelter. “We would waste over $10 million and many years on a proposal that would only move this emergency.”

Sclar, along with other residents of Nason’s Corner and different parts of the city, implored the city to instead consider building several small shelters scattered around the city. City staff have examined such a plan and concluded it would cost millions of dollars more per year than running a single large shelter.

[No easy fix for Portland neighborhood with ‘every problem imaginable’]

Several Portlanders, however, argued that multiple smaller shelters would better serve people without homes in Portland.

“If you really want to do something for the homeless, you’ll find the money to do a scattered-site plan,” said George Rheault, a resident of Bayside, where the current shelter is located.

Last year, the city changed its zoning to allow an emergency shelter to be opened in several areas outside of the downtown. The site near The Barron Center was not among them and building a shelter there would require that the council approve another zoning change.

[City unveils plans for larger, full-service homeless shelter]

A number of Nason’s Corner residents compared the size of the shelter proposed in their neighborhood to ones in larger cities, arguing that large shelters are rarely placed in residential areas.

Sam Rosenthal rejected the idea that opposition to the shelter was “NIMBYism.” “This kind of shelter should not be put in anyone’s backyard,” said Rosenthal. “There’s a better way to do it.”

Jennings was not in his seat on the council dias during the first hour of testimony against the plan and returned as it was wrapping up.

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