PORTLAND, Maine — Portland is one step closer to building a new 200-bed Homeless Services Center in the city following the results of a referendum Tuesday.
According to unofficial results from the City of Portland, the measure which looked to reduce capacity of future emergency shelters in the city to 50 beds was defeated, receiving 31% percent of the vote.
"I think that the voters have spoken," Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said on Wednesday. "This is the quickest path to getting out of the situation that we've got with the rented Oxford Street facility and into a permanent facility on city-owned land."
Portland voters were presented with three options for the referendum question:
- Option A: written and endorsed by Smaller Shelters for Portland looked to reduce capacity to 50 beds
- Option B, written by the Portland City Council looked to reduce capacity at emergency shelters to 150 beds
- Option C rejected both other options and would keep current capacity limits in place
Unofficial election results for the City of Portland show option A received 31%, option B received roughly 28% of the vote, and option C received 41% of the vote. Both options A and B would have required more than 50% of the vote to be enacted.
The ballot measure was brought forward by the group Smaller Shelter for Portland. Volunteers with the group expressed concern over the size of the shelter.
Smaller Shelter for Portland shared this statement with NEWS CENTER Maine following the results of the referendum:
"The voters have spoken and our effort for smaller shelters did not prevail. We continue to believe that the City's approach is the wrong path forward and we will continue to advocate for permanent and dignified solutions for our unhoused neighbors. As we have said, shelters do not solve homelessness, housing solves homelessness. We hope our City leaders will refocus their efforts on addressing the housing crisis so that people experiencing homelessness have a permanent place to call home."
City attorneys have stated that the referendum results would not apply to the new Homeless Services Center, however, leaders with Smaller Shelters for Portland stated otherwise.
Following the results of the vote, the path appears much more clear towards the building of the new shelter. It's set to be located at 654 Riverside Street in Portland, which is city-owned land. According to the city, it will provide low barrier, temporary emergency shelter to individuals experiencing homelessness over the age of 18 and will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is also slated to include on-site meals and a wide range of services including health and mental health care, substance use treatment, housing assistance, peer support, case management, employment assistance, and more.
"We're a city that cares, we want to meet people's needs. There's a lot of services and shelters out there. This larger shelter proposal clearly has the community support," Snyder said.
Earlier this week, the Portland City Council approved lease agreements with Developers Collaborative, the developers selected to build the $25 million dollar project.
Some however still plan to push back against the new Homeless Services Center.
"Regardless of the vote, I'm still extremely concerned about this shelter," said Smaller Shelters for Portland volunteer Carolyn Silvius.
Silvius says she experienced homeless herself in Portland five years ago for about 10 months. She remains concerned that those experiencing homelessness could "fall through the cracks" at the homeless services center due to its size. She is also concerned that due to Maine's hiring shortage, there may not be adequate staff there to care for those staying there. She also fears many may also not travel to the shelter due to its location away from downtown Portland.
"I'm really afraid that the homeless will consider it too far away from the services they need to have like jobs and doctors," Silvius said.
Mayor Snyder told NEWS CENTER Maine on Wednesday that she hopes to work with advocates as the city moved forward with its plan to construct the facility. She adds city staff and Developers Collaborative will also be conducting outreach over the coming weeks and months as plans are finalized for the Homeless Services Center. It's not clear when construction will begin on the shelter.