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Advocates call for additional emergency shelter as frigid cold nears

According to city staff, Portland is currently sheltering on average 900 people per night. Advocates for those unhoused believe around 200 are sleeping outside.

PORTLAND, Maine — A cold blast is expected to bring frigid temperatures to Maine and New England at the end of the week, and it's causing concern for those working with people experiencing homelessness in southern Maine.

"Every day we're seeing people come into our community space with really bad frostbite on their hands and feet. We're giving out tents and sleeping bags non-stop, all day," Dani Laliberte, an outreach worker in Portland, said. 

Laliberte is part of a coalition of outreach workers and others that are on the ground assisting unhoused people in the Greater Portland area. Members of the coalition Hustlin4theUnhoused are calling on the City of Portland to immediately establish a low-barrier, overnight emergency shelter. 

"People are going to start dying. People are already dying on the streets. We need a shelter today," Laliberte said. 

According to Laliberte and other advocates with Hustlin4theUnhoused, there are about 200 people sleeping outside in the Greater Portland area each night.

The City of Portland said on average, it is providing shelter to roughly 900 people every night between its hotels and shelters. 

The Homeless Services Center on Riverside Street in Portland's Riverton neighborhood is slated to open in March and will include more than 50 additional beds compared to the Oxford Street Shelter, Portland's current low-barrier shelter. Portland's Director of Health and Human Services said, however, the city doesn't have the capacity of resources to open an additional shelter.

Dow added that Maine Housing is currently accepting applications and has funding available for community partners to work to establish an emergency winter shelter.

"I'm hopeful that some of our community partners and faith-based organizations will be able to apply for some of this needed funding that we've been asking the state for a while," Dow said. 

With the cold coming soon, advocates, like outreach worker Terri McGuire, say something has to be done right now.

"I think it's a basic human need for people to have a place to stay warm, and a place to go to the bathroom at night," McGuire said. "This isn't something that needs to be done in two weeks, it needs to be done tonight." 

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