PORTLAND, Maine — There's been a lot of controversy regarding where the city of Portland should build a new homeless shelter.
More push-back is expected Tuesday evening as Portland City Councilors hold a public hearing on three possible locations they have zeroed in on.
The new 150 bed facility in progress would replace the Oxford Street Shelter in Bayside. That shelter holds 154 adults sleeping on mats on the floor, with many more people having to go to overflow shelters.
The sites being considered for the new shelter are:
- State-owned land on County Way next to the Cumberland County Jail
- A city-owned parking lot on Commercial Street near the Casco Bay Bridge, known as Angelo's Acre
- City-owned land in the Riverside Industrial Park on Riverside Street, which is near the Westbrook line and is the only site off Peninsula
Some people who live and work near the possible shelter sites are concerned that the problems in Bayside, namely increased violence and drug activity, will plague those areas, as well.
"It's an up and coming neighborhood," said Nick Beal, owner of Cross Fit Casco Bay. The gym is located steps away from one of the proposed sites, state-owned land on County Way, next to the Cumberland County Jail.
Beal says they've already had issues with the homeless. Homeless individuals once lit a fire next to their building and another time, two homeless people walked into the gym and started fighting.
"We need to find a creative solution to help the homeless community. I just think we can find a way to help people but without impeding on economic development," Beal said.
Cullen Burke agrees. Burke is a manager at Free Range Lobster and Fish on Commercial Street, directly across the street from the city-owned parking lot near the Casco Bay Bridge, known as Angelo's Acre.
"It's definitely a service we need, so it should be somewhere," said Burke. He just doesn't think Commercial Street, a tourist hot spot, is the best place.
"You don't want that to be the first and last impression. You don't want people driving away on Labor Day weekend and saying, 'I'm never coming back to Portland.'"
Last summer, the city of Portland proposed building a shelter on city-owned land at the Barron Center on Brighton Avenue, but the city had to abandon that plan, since residents in the nearby Nason's Corner neighborhood were vehemently opposed to it.
"It needs to happen," said Burke. "But where we put it is just as important as whether we put it up at all."
A point that will no doubt be brought up many times at Tuesday night's public hearing.