PORTLAND, Maine — Voters shot down an effort to block the construction of a 208-bed emergency homeless center on the outskirts of the city to build smaller shelters around the city.
Portland residents selected Option C with 41 percent of votes, declining to support either of the two measures that would amend city code to regulate new homeless shelters in the city. The vote clears the way for the construction of the 51,000 square-foot shelter at 654 Riverside St.
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The project, which is backed by the city, is already under contract in a public-private partnership with Developers Collective, a local firm that touts the shelter as one that will offer comprehensive services to unhoused people, including behavioral and medical health services, a soup kitchen and substance use counseling.
Option A, which would have capped new shelters at 50 beds, received 31.4 percent of the vote.
Frances Lindemann, a 64-year-old retired lawyer in Portland’s District 2, said she “unhappily” voted for Option C because the need for support for unhoused people was dire.
“I think smaller shelters are much more humane, but we got people down in the park, and I’ve never seen that in Portland,” Lindemann said. “I think we’ve got to finish up something as fast as possible.”
The decision could close the book on a near-decade long public debate on the future of Portland’s homeless services. It clears the way for the city to move the bulk of its homeless services out of Bayside, a fast-developing neighborhood coveted by developers.
Officials had conducted recent business as though the 208-bed shelter were a done deal. The City Council approved the lease on Monday, the night before the election.
What might have been a straightforward vote for or against smaller shelters was further complicated in August, when councilors added a competing measure to a citizen’s initiative that would add licensing restrictions to future shelter builds. The measure was neck-and-neck with the small shelter measure, assuring the small shelter effort would not receive the majority of total votes required to win the three-way vote.
The decision should soon spell the end of Oxford Street Shelter, a converted apartment building that the city has operated as an overnight homeless shelter since 1995.
It was a win for outgoing City Manager Jon Jennings, who pushed for the closure of the Oxford Street Shelter, which he saw as an outdated facility. Jennings, who sat on the city’s Homelessness Prevention Task Force as a private citizen and business community leader a decade ago, vacated the city manager role he had held since 2015 on Nov. 1 to take a city manager job in Clearwater, Florida.