Portland's Oxford Street Shelter. Credit: Jake Bleiberg

Portland city officials had two options Tuesday night: Approve one large homeless shelter with a capacity of up to 150 or build multiple smaller shelters.

The city’s Health and Human Services Committee voted for one large new shelter, but the crowd seemed split on the issue.

Those in favor of what some have called a “mega-shelter” say it will be more cost efficient and is backed by health providers.

[Portland unveils plans for larger, full-service homeless shelter]

Jessica Grondin, the director of communications for the city of Portland, said the city will also “partner with Avesta, Opportunity Alliance, and potentially Preble Street on the specialty model concepts as part of a package deal.”

“Key service providers support a single facility with co-located services,” Laura Cannon said.

“One shelter is the most effective design,” Community Housing of Maine’s Colin Ryan said. “Multiple shelters will cost more, but not just money. It will create inherent inefficiencies and it will be challenging to decide where four people should go on a given night.”

Others say one large facility won’t work, with some saying a large facility will be harder to fix if it fails.

“If it eventually is not run well, it’s harder for them to be a good neighbor,” Brett Debor said. “It’s harder for them to turn around. I feel like more smaller shelters is easier to manage on a human level, even if it costs more money.”

“One shop stopping does not work,” T.J. Beers said. “You need to have several shelters because you cannot throw everybody into one shelter and expect it to work.”

[Portland residents blast plan for new ‘mega-shelter’]

Others say the city needs to revisit the plan entirely and should first work on affordable housing.

“The number of beds will be insufficient without addressing the lack of affordable housing in the city,” Portland-based lawyer Frank D’Alessandro said. “The most effective way to deal with homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place.”

City officials say between October of last year and October of this year, more than 1,800 people used a shelter overnight in Portland.

They say there is no word on when the construction of the new location will begin.

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