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New non-traditional 24/7 shelter, 'Elena's Way,' opens in Portland

Elena's Way in Portland will have 40 beds, and staff will target people struggling with mental health and substance use disorders.

PORTLAND, Maine — Preble Street's new 24/7 shelter is set to open on Oct. 11 as a non-traditional model to help people struggling to find stable housing.

"Elena's Way" will offer 40 beds as permanent spaces for people experiencing homelessness. Staff will target those who either cannot or will not stay in the city's shelters, such as those with mental health and substance use disorders, to live at the shelter.

The facility is replacing the Preble Street Resource Center and day shelter at the same location. The City of Portland used that space as an overflow shelter space where people could stay at night. Preble Street's vice president of social work, Andrew Bove, said the city used that space for that purpose for "a long period of time."

"It was really shouldering quite an untenable amount of responsibility. Hundreds of people every day in a very cramped space," Bove said. 

Bove said the goal of Elena's Way is to "rewrite the narrative around what a shelter could be." 

The facility has true beds, not cots or mats. Each bed has its own electrical outlets to charge phones. The beds are spaced out, and the space features lots of natural light. 

Clients can access mail, laundry, casework, and even medical care on-site. They can also access warm meals and refrigerated food and drinks at any time, as opposed to the scheduled meal times the old resource center and other shelters offer.

"Beds that people can lay down in during the day. That's different than any other shelter in Portland right now," Bove said. "It's a rebirth of the space. It's great to see the next chapter."

[Note: Preble Street sent a corrected statement, saying that the ability to lay down in a bed during the day is different than almost any other shelter in the city.]

"It is an impressive space," Ben Strick, director of adult behavioral health for Spurwink, said. "I've been impressed with their community outreach. I'm looking forward to continued partnership with them and the [Living Room Crisis Center]."

In August, 455 people were staying in shelters in Portland, according to city data. 

Bove said the independence and autonomy they try to offer will "create a more dignified experience for people."

"That sense of permanence really gives people stability. And with that stability comes an opportunity to pursue long-term goals, something that may not be possible if they're living day-to-day, moment-to-moment in a state of crisis," Bove said.

He added that one of the reasons people choose not to access shelters is because of the conditions, real or perceived. 

"I think there's a need for it. Unsheltered homelessness is a solvable problem. It's also a problem that's escalating exponentially across the United States, and we're certainly seeing it here in Portland," Bove said. 

He said couples will also be allowed, and shelters forcing men and women to segregate is the leading reason why people in Portland choose not to access shelters.

Elena's Way is set to open on Oct. 11. 

"Elena’s Way is named for Elena Schmidt, a person who has had a profound impact on Preble Street and the services we provide. Her wisdom, open heart, and values-based skills helped Preble Street grow and expand our services to reach more people," the organization said in a statement. "In her nearly 20 years here, Elena has served as the first development director, the first human resource director, and now as agency archivist. She has been instrumental in growing this agency through her fundraising efforts, commitment to our mission, and tireless devotion to helping people who need it the most." 

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