PORTLAND – The Milestone Foundation emergency shelter will reopen tonight as the result of an agreement that was reached Thursday by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
U.S. Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins made the announcement late Thursday night.
The agreement means that the shelter, which had to abruptly close 41 beds on Nov. 1 because of reimbursement issues, can start accepting clients at its India Street location once again.
Those clients, most of whom are addicted to drugs or alcohol, had to be moved to the Preble Street Resource Center — a situation that both city and agency officials called unacceptable.
Mark Swann, Preble Street’s director, credited DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Maine’s congressional delegation with working hard behind the scenes to resolve a potentially dangerous situation.
"They really stepped up once people began to realize the gravity of the situation and the danger this posed to a lot of our most vulnerable people. We were concerned that someone would die this winter," said Swann, who was in the midst of celebrating his 27th wedding anniversary with his wife when Mayhew left a message on his cellphone.
Milestone Foundation’s shelter, which is near Munjoy Hill, was forced to reduce significantly the number of shelter beds it provides by Nov. 1 or face losing its federal Medicaid reimbursements.
As an interim solution, Milestone moved those shelter beds to a hallway at Preble Street Resource Center. It also reduced the number of beds at its India Street facility that were reserved for patients going through detox treatment from 18 to 16 beds.
"I’m not exaggerating when I say that someone could die tonight," Tom Allan, Milestone’s executive director, told The Portland Press Herald on the night of the move. Allan could not be reached Thursday.
Allan was concerned that the alcohol- and drug-addicted people his agency serves would not be able to make the transition to a new shelter in a different part of the city with a different clientele.
Swann said the 41 beds that were added at Preble Street have been full since the change occurred.
"The current economic crisis has threatened the financial health of thousands of Mainers, leaving many hard-working families and individuals unable to pay their mortgages and forcing them to leave their homes," Snowe and Collins said in a joint statement. "This agreement will allow Milestone Foundation to continue providing critical shelter to those who need access to safe housing during their time of need."
Swann said the news could not have come at a better time — on the eve of Veterans Day. He said many of the people served by Milestone are veterans.
"This has been one of the most challenging situations we have ever had to deal with," Swann said. "It has been heartening to see so much hard work bring all these people home to India Street."
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at firstname.lastname@example.org