In this Aug. 10, 2020, file photo, a youth-led march against homelessness makes its way up Franklin Street in front of the luxury Verdante condominium project in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A citizen initiative to limit the number of beds in new homeless shelters in Portland will be on the ballot in November.

The referendum, which intends to curb the construction of a 200-bed shelter in Riverton, would limit the size of new shelters to 50 beds, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Smaller Shelters for Portland, the organization advocating for the policy, told the newspaper it submitted its proposal last week, and city officials told the group that it met the 1,500-signature minimum to get on the ballot.

“I hope that the city does not approve the second letter of agreement with the developer until after the people have had their say,” Stephanie Neuts, one of the group’s organizers, told the Press Herald. “And the people include those who are homeless and those who are rehoused that are registered city voters who want to be heard.”

Along with the limit on beds, the initiative would ensure that new shelters be located within a quarter mile of a bus stop, provide enough space to conduct security screenings, have a clear view of the beds from the administrative offices, be open 24 hours a day and provide services in person or video conferencing, the newspaper reported.

The discussion over whether the city should allow the construction of the new shelter has been subject to debate and protests in Portland for months. As homelessness has surged in the city as a result of economic disparity, the opioid crisis and displacement caused by rising rent prices, so have opponents’ efforts to prevent the addition of new homeless shelters.

Most of Portland’s homeless services are in the Bayside neighborhood, an area where, according to opponents of new shelters, residents “selflessly shoulder much of Maine’s responsibility for addressing homelessness, no matter the cost.” In a neighborhood plan two decades ago, city officials called Bayside “a vital social service network” where “homeless shelters and related services will remain.”

A public hearing on the referendum is scheduled for July 19, but the Portland City Council is likely to let voters decide on the issue rather than adopt the policy outright, the Press Herald reported.

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Matt Berg

Matt is a senior at UMass Amherst, studying journalism and history. Before joining the Bangor Daily News, he was the managing editor of his student newspaper and interned at the Boston Globe.