A man removes paint cans from his truck outside of a Portland home that is being renovated to serve as a halfway house for young men released from the Long Creek Youth Development Center. Credit: Jake Bleiberg

PORTLAND, Maine — A halfway house program for young men that was originally slated to begin operations in Westbrook last year is now scheduled to open in Portland this March.

A house on outer Forest Avenue will provide a transitional place to live for up to six young men who might otherwise not have a safe home to return to upon release from Maine’s youth prison. It will be the first facility of its kind in Maine, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Funded with taxpayer money from the Department of Corrections, the new home will be staffed around the clock by employees of the Opportunity Alliance, who will aim to help residents learn life skills and adapt to the world outside of the Long Creek Youth Development Center.

“It’s going to be a big life change for them to live in a home and get on a bus and go to work and do those sorts of normal life things,” said Wendi Dubois, a program vice president with the nonprofit Opportunity Alliance.

[Council vote may block halfway house for former Long Creek inmates from opening in Westbrook]

The Portland house replaces a planned transitional home that was set to open in Westbrook last year under the same arraignment. That plan was scrapped after the home failed an inspection and the Westbrook City Council passed a measure effectively blocking it from opening.

“This is the very same project,” said Dubois. “Nothing’s changed other than us seeking another house in another community.”

In Portland, the Opportunity Alliance has been reaching out to people who live in the neighborhood about the opening of the transitional home, said Hannah Williams, the director of the home, called Project RISE.

Some local officials said they were unaware of the project before being asked about it by the Bangor Daily News.

“That’s great news,” said Mayor Ethan Strimling upon learning of the plan. City Councilor Kimberly Cook, whose district includes the home, said she has reached out to the city manager for more information on the project and declined to comment further.

The Opportunity Alliance has rented a house at 1519 Forest Ave. and is in the process of renovating it ahead of a city inspection scheduled for March 1, said Dubois and Williams. The facility will open after it has passed the inspection, Dubois said.

The house is still awaiting two fire permits and will have a final inspection for its certificate of occupancy once those are issued, said city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin. It received approval as a conditional use from the Zoning Board of Appeals in September of last year, she said.

[As new leaders work to right youth prison, advocates call for closure]

From working with them to find jobs and permanent housing to teaching them to do laundry and apply for a credit check, the home is aimed at helping former inmates between the ages of 18 and 21 make a successful transition back into Maine society, Williams said. It is meant to house people for up to six months, she said.

In recent years, the state has fallen behind the national standard on how it re-integrates former youth inmates into the community, Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick told the Bangor Daily News last year .

More than a third of the state’s committed youths reoffend within a year of their release and more than half do so within two years, according to 2016 research from the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service. Both corrections officials and prisoners advocates have stressed the importance of transitional facilities to prevent recidivism.

“It’s essential that the community take these kids back,” Long Creek Superintendent Caroline Raymond said in a recent interview.

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