PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Some of the city's homeless population may find life a little easier this winter. The city has announced that the Oxford Street shelter will soon be open 24-hours a day.
Oxford Street’s director says the shelter typically has 154 clients staying there each night, but right now they all have to leave before eight in the morning, and can’t return until late afternoon. That has led to concerns about people hanging out in the downtown or the neighborhood, and also about people being at risk especially in cold weather.
So the city has decided the shelter should stay open all day. Shelter director Rob Parritt said keeping the doors open during the day should help reduce concerns about large numbers of people just " hanging out", while also keeping more of the homeless population safe during winter and away from predators. In addition, he said it should also help Oxford Street staff deliver more services to those clients.
"The idea people are getting pushed into the community a lot of time without safety nets doesn’t sit well with us," he said. "So we’re able to say here’s an option. We can’t force folks to come in but think a lot will because it's safe."
Parritt said Oxford Sreet has become very skilled at helping homeless residents find permanent housing, as well as apply for jobs and other services.
Heidi, a currently homeless woman living at the shelter, told NEWS CENTER she works some of the time as a dishwasher, work that often is at night. She said life has been difficult because she has to leave the shelter in the morning and spend the day in the streets or another program before going back to the job at night. Having Oxford Street open during the day, she said, will make it easier.
"I work nights so the nights I do work here it would be very convenient for this place to be open 24 hours,"
The decision to keep Oxford Street open in daytime is also being praised by Portland Downtown, which represents the needs of downtown businesses. A spokeswoman for the group said it will be good for shelter clients and for local businesses as well.
The city doesn't have an exact starting date, but Parritt said the shelter will start 24-hour operations before winter. The city will need to spend an additional $340,000 for the remainder of the current fiscal year, and the city manager has stated the money will come from savings in other parts of the budget.
Rob Parritt said the city is also working on plans to build a new shelter, to replace the aging Oxford Street building. He such they have not selected a location, and that construction is likely several years away.