The City of Portland’s Health & Human Services (HHS) Department has continued working diligently to ready emergency shelter beds for the winter season in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the anticipated impact on people experiencing homelessness. City staff worked tirelessly to come up with creative solutions to provide access to more shelter beds this winter than ever available before. While the City originally thought it was going to use a County-owned property known as the Joyce House, it will now operate the city-run Oxford Street Shelter as well as one hotel it will operate and one hotel it will have access to through a partnership with MaineHousing. The estimated number of beds to be available this winter is 293, up from 229 in past years.
On October 19, 2020, the City announced it was finalizing its plans on a three-pronged approach to increase the amount of shelter beds available in Portland this winter in light of necessary COVID-19 precautions and the loss of overflow space at the Preble Street Resource Center. While the City has had to reduce capacity in its spaces in order to properly space guests, it has not closed any of its shelter spaces and has continued to increase the number of people served.
It was originally envisioned that the City would use the Oxford Street Shelter, the Joyce House on County Way, and a local hotel for emergency shelter space for single adults this winter. However, negotiations on a Memorandum of Understanding between the City and County's insurer were not able to be successfully resolved, when the Maine County Commissioners Risk Pool set liability thresholds that the City found to be excessive. Therefore, the City will not be able to use the Joyce House.
Instead, the City will have access to 75 shelter beds at the Oxford Street Shelter as well as 144 shelter beds at one local hotel that City staff will operate, and the City is working with MaineHousing on having access to a second hotel to provide 74 additional shelter beds. MaineHousing has committed to funding the use of the two hotels.
“I’d like to thank the County government for their willingness to work with us on a solution to provide additional emergency shelter beds this winter,” said Kristen Dow, the City’s Director of Health & Human Services. Unfortunately, after lengthy negotiations, we were not able to come to terms due to the requirements of the Maine County Commissioners Risk Pool. While we’re disappointed to not be able to utilize the Joyce House, as we found it to offer many benefits for our clients, we are moving forward with plans that will still allow us to provide more shelter beds this winter than in past years.”
"The County is disappointed that an agreement was not reached," said County Manager James Gailey. "We wanted to help the City support their housing efforts through the Joyce House, and we agree with the City that the liability threshold is excessive. But those decisions are out of our control."
Dow continued, “I’d like to thank MaineHousing for working with us proactively on creative solutions that will ensure we’ll be able to provide enough access to safe emergency shelter this winter for those who need it. At the same time, we continue to move forward and work on our plans for a new, more modern homeless services center that will provide emergency shelter beds and wrap-around services in one central location. This is all while continuing to focus our efforts on sustainable and stable long-term housing placements through our Housing First approach.”
The City also continues to run the Family Shelter spaces on Chestnut Street as well as motel rooms for overflow and quarantine purposes.