On October 19, 2020, the City of Portland announced it was finalizing its plans on a three-pronged approach to increase the amount of shelter beds available in Portland this winter in light of necessary COVID-19 precautions and the loss of overflow space at the Preble Street Resource Center. While the City has had to reduce capacity in its spaces in order to properly space guests, it has not closed any of its shelter spaces and has continued to increase the number of people served. If negotiations related to these plans are successfully finalized, the City will have access to 75 beds at the Oxford Street Shelter, 50 beds at the Joyce House on County Way, and 149 beds at a local hotel, an increase of 30 additional beds this winter.
Kristen Dow, the City’s Director of Health and Human Services, offered the following statement regarding the City’s plan to transition shelter guests from the Portland Expo to the Joyce House next week:
“When the Cumberland County manager first offered up the Joyce House as a potential temporary shelter space, we, of course, were concerned about the implications of having our shelter guests close to the Cumberland County Jail facility. However, after staff toured the facility, we realized that this space actually offers a number of improvements for our guests -- the building is set up like a dormitory. Shelter guests will have their own rooms with a space where they can leave their belongings during the day and access to adequate interior and exterior day space. The building is separated from the jail by roads and another building. It’s location at the front entrance to the County property lends itself well for guests to continue accessing nearby services.”
Dow added, “City staff and I had been looking at other vacant properties in Portland for quite some time, but any that were available would have needed to be retrofitted for use as a shelter, adding time and money to an already tight time schedule.”
Dow continued, “We felt the need to issue this statement as a response to community emails received yesterday that had a large amount of misinformation in them. This includes the characterization that our intentions are to criminalize homelessness or that shelter guests will be housed in the jail run by jail staff. All of this could not be further from the truth. For the last several months, the City has coordinated regular social service provider calls with our community agency partners, and I have been open and honest about our search for a new temporary emergency shelter space. My biggest fear about this misinformation is that it will spread in the community and those who need shelter will not access it, putting our most vulnerable residents at further risk.”
Brian Townsend, Executive Director of Amistad offered up the following statement: “Amistad is grateful for the proactive and collaborative approach that the City of Portland has taken in working to secure adequate and safe options for emergency sheltering during this incredibly challenging period of time. The City has been leading our community’s efforts to explore available options, while regularly and fully informing and engaging with the service provider community in those efforts. The scarcity of available, appropriate spaces and locations has been one of the greatest challenges to finding solutions.”
Townsend added, “The City fully vetted the Joyce House with Amistad and other partners. The consensus opinion—and the clear opinion of Amistad—was that the Joyce House option was positive and welcome because it is a safe and viable solution to an immediate and pressing challenge. The fact that guests at the Joyce House will have their own rooms is an incredible advantage and selling point, as is its location on the peninsula and its nearness to needed supports and resources. The proximity to the jail is a noted and, for some, uncomfortable reality, but in discussing this option with people currently experiencing homelessness this issue has not been raised as a notable concern. These individuals cited accessibility, safety and access to meals as their greatest concerns. The Joyce House provides all of the above.”
Townsend continued, “Amistad and other partners are eager to support the City and the guests of the Joyce Center in multiple ways, and look forward to continued partnership on sheltering options that are community-driven, collaborative, and focused on long-term, cooperative solutions to homelessness.”