The City of Portland has been working on the front lines in direct contact with its most vulnerable community members for more than 30 years with one of the most dedicated and professional staffs. Each and every decision the City makes is with their best interests in mind. The City is committed to caring for the homeless population during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“We have an emergency action plan in place that we’re following as we continue to provide emergency shelter and housing services to our clients,” said Kristen Dow, Director of the City’s Health and Human Services Department. “If the situation in our shelters required additional measures, we will respond accordingly. We are in communication with the Maine Health and Human Services Department about ideas that are being developed at the state level for additional homeless shelter space should it be required.”
Shelter staff has provided COVID-19 educational materials to guests, are encouraging good and frequent hand washing, providing hand sanitizer, and masks are available for those who have a cough or are sneezing. Guests are sleeping head to toe in order to provide additional distance while sleeping.
The City has made available 12 isolation spaces that can accommodate up to 36 people in one of its family shelter buildings for any shelter guests who require it. So far, this space has been used for five individuals and four cases have proved negative for COVID-19 with one test result still pending. The four who have tested negative have left the isolation spaces. The City has contingency plans to utilize additional family shelter buildings for isolation or quarantine requirements if needed.
City staff has been in daily contact with healthcare providers to understand and assist in planning for the current and potential need for the entire region. The James A. Banks Portland Exposition Building is being reserved as an alternate care site for continuum of care in case our hospital providers are overwhelmed and need additional capacity.
The City is not in a position to undertake staffing or operation of any other emergency shelter spaces outside of its existing facilities given its current resources. It is also not in line with best public health practices and Maine CDC guidance to open a facility such as the space that was used over the summer. In addition, the City’s shelter staff is not trained to provide medical support.
Dow added, “this is a completely different situation than what transpired over the summer. We are dealing with an infectious disease and there is no way to properly separate people at the Expo given the open floor plan. We actually ran into similar challenges with this over the summer with cases of the chicken pox.”
The effort over the summer was very labor intensive and is not something that could be duplicated for this situation. It required the assistance of the state and many volunteers, all of whom would not be in a position to assist in the same way at this time.
The City continues to operate its General Assistance program at 196 Lancaster Street under normal hours. However, in an effort to protect clients and staff, the City has reduced the number of chairs in the waiting room to create more space between clients, and is taking all precautionary measures related to increased hygiene and cleaning.