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Portland City Council nearing vote on new homeless shelter guidelines

City Councilors expect to vote on the resolution for how the new Riverton homeless shelter should operate on February 3

PORTLAND, Maine — For years, Portland has been debating how it should handle a new homeless shelter to replace the aging Oxford Street facility. On Monday, they became one step closer to finalizing the guidelines of how it should operate. 

Since the Portland City Council voted to approve a new homeless service center and shelter in the Riverton neighborhood on Riverside Street in June, it has been trying to create a resolution on how the facility should operate. 

"I am cautiously optimistic that when we vote on the third, we will move the resolution forward," councilor Belinda Ray said. "And that will enable us to move on to the next phase here, which is to begin looking at the planning and design process for a new facility." 

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On Monday, the council had a workshop to further discuss question about the resolution. City staff, as well as a representative from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, were on hand to answer questions. 

Much of the conversation at Monday's workshop consisted of how other municipalities across the country operate their homeless shelters. 

Another aspect the council discussed that's been drawing much attention from the public is a possible cap on the new shelter.

The resolution currently states, "ensure the new facility is built with ample capacity to handle our current average annual nightly census for the previous 12 months. As of September 30, 2019, the average nightly census for the previous 12 months is 210."

That data has since been changed to match the complete numbers from 2019. The average nightly census for people using a Portland shelter last year is 197. Most people seen in one night was 271 in January 2019. 

The resolution adds "Ensure the new facility has adequate capacity to handle overflow onsite as needed." 

You can view the full resolution on the city's website here.

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"A cap is an indication that only so many people will be sheltered," Carolyn Silvius, an advocate with Homeless Voices for Justic0 said. "The question then is what happens after that cap is reached. Does that mean people will be on the streets, and if that's what it means, then that's untenable." 

There was no public comment at Monday's meeting, which is standard with City Council workshops. 

A formal agenda for the February 3 City Council meeting has not been finalized, however, council members expect to vote on the proposed resolution at that meeting. 

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