PORTLAND, Maine (NECN) — A restaurant owner in Portland says the neighborhood surrounding homeless shelters and resource centers has become too dangerous to do business in.
Tony Napolitano, owner of Maria’s Ristorante, is looking to relocate. His restaurant has been in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood for decades, but says customers see things on the streets that scare them away.
“We have had a few reservations cancel because they didn’t feel safe parking their car,” said Napolitano.
He says people congregating outside the Preble Street Resource Center have yelled at patrons, gotten into fights, and damaged property.
Portland’s City Manager, Jon Jennings, has heard the same thing from other business owners about aggressive panhandlers and transients doing everything from spitting on people to banging on store front windows.
“The behavior we’ve seen over the last couple summers has been outrageous,” said Jennings. He is looking at adding more of a police presence to the area, and more street lights.
He’d also like the city to extend the hours of its Oxford Street shelter to make it a 24-hour facility. Jennings believes fewer people would be out on the streets, waiting to get inside the Preble Street Resource Center if the shelter were open all day.
The executive director of Preble Street agrees.
“People have nowhere to go,” said Mark Swann. He said until the Portland city shelter is open during the day, these problems will persist.
Swann said he understands the frustrations of nearby business owners, because he is frustrated, too.
Demand for Preble Street services has exploded. When it was founded 25 years ago, Swann said they would serve about 100 people a day – but now, they help more than 400 homeless daily.
On top of that, he says it’s harder to get clients help. Swann says in the midst of the opioid crisis, many people need substance abuse treatment and mental health services, but don’t have Medicaid to access those services.
“We need to fix the shelter system, and in addition to that we need to fix the mental health and substance abuse system,” said Swann.
Both Jennings and Napolitano said they think the homeless shelters and resource centers provide a critical need in the community.
Napolitano just wishes they weren’t concentrated around his restaurant.
“I’m a compassionate person,” he said. “I think there is a need for a shelter in Portland, but not in an area where businesses are trying to feed their families.”