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Guests, city staff say new Homeless Services Center in Portland is big improvement

The Homeless Services Center on Riverside Street opened for guests Tuesday, and all but one bed was occupied.

PORTLAND, Maine — Portland's new Homeless Services Center is officially open for business.

Tuesday marked the first time guests stayed overnight at the new shelter. According to Kristen Dow, Portland's director of Health and Human Services, 207 of the 208 beds were full the first night.

"This is really going to transform the way we assist this population," Dow said. 

According to Dow, food services are now available at the shelter. She said however, some of the wraparound services like health care, mental health, and dental services are still getting up and running.

"This is a completely different environment. People can spread out, they're happy there, and from what I hear from staff, it was a very good first night," Dow said. 

Those that stayed at the new HSC its first night said the difference between this shelter and the Oxford Street Shelter is night and day. 

"It's a big, big help for all of us," Brian Bingham said.

Bingham said he had stayed at Oxford Street for the last six months. He hopes to be out of the HSC and into a new living situation by Friday but said where he stayed Tuesday is a big improvement.

"The cots, everybody gets cots now. The mattresses are three times as thick as they were before. They're longer, they're spaced out six feet apart. It's really pretty, I'm very impressed," Bingham said. 

Portland continues to provide shelter to hundreds of people experiencing homelessness each night. The city plans to open the Portland Expo to help house asylum seekers in the coming weeks. 

Despite expanded shelter capacity with the new HSC and the soon be opened shelter at the Expo, many experiencing homeless said they are in no rush to stay at the HSC.

"With the weather getting warmer, I'd rather be outside," Damian Thomas said. Thomas is one of several dozen people living in an encampment near the Bayside Trail in Portland. 

"Live by my rules. I have a hard time living under somebody else's authority," Thomas said. 

According to Dow, the city and community partners will continue outreach to individuals experiencing homeless that are not being sheltered and hope to provide resources to as many as possible.

"We really hope we're able to get some people in and get access to services," Dow said.

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