Maine House candidates address concerns of homeless

PORTLAND – Affordable housing, emergency shelters, supported living and police profiling were among the issues tackled by six City Council candidates during a forum Thursday at the Preble Street social service agency.

They weren’t abstract concepts to those who attended. All were homeless, had struggled with homelessness or worked in the shelter.

The "You Don’t Need a Home to Vote" forum was sponsored by the advocacy group Homeless Voices for Justice.

Councilor Kevin Donoghue, 33, an administrator for Spectrum Cos., is running against Justin Benjamin Pollard, 40, a builder, in District 1.

Councilor David Marshall, 34, executive director of the Maine Artist Collective, faces Shane Boyington, 34, a college student, in District 2.

Incumbent Nicholas Mavodones Jr., 52, operations manager at Casco Bay Lines, faces Wellington "Wells" Lyons, 30, a small-business owner and lawyer, for an at-large seat.

Each candidate said he would continue the city’s policy — instituted in 1987 by City Manager Bob Ganley — of providing shelter to anyone in need.

Marshall and Donoghue highlighted their efforts to increase housing options, most notably through relaxed zoning for housing downtown and lower parking requirements for new developments.

Donoghue said the city must do more to subsidize affordable housing developments through its tax increment financing program, which returns a portion of property taxes to developers.

That program was used by Avesta Housing to create Pearl Place, he said, but the city hasn’t used its portion of ensuing property taxes to provide services to those apartment dwellers.

Donoghue said the city should fund its rapid re-housing program, which received $876,000 from the federal stimulus. Shelter officials point to that funding loss as one cause of record homelessness in Portland.

Pollard said voters should elect Democrats to the Legislature to sustain General Assistance funding. He suggested that Portland rent farmland in area towns, which could be tended by the homeless, to grow organic produce for shelters and schools.

Marshall said he supports the Housing First model — like the Florence House for women — as the most humane way to address homelessness. He said he helped to quell opposition in his district when Florence House was proposed and, if re-elected, would continue to work to improve the abutting area.

Boyington said he could relate to the struggles of the homeless since he has used the food pantry and General Assistance.

When asked about ways to discourage profiling by police, Boyington said there isn’t much that can be done.

"I’m a gay guy who is a drag queen, and when I walk through the park at night, (police) think I’m up to something else," he said. "I don’t think any one person can say, ‘I know how to solve that.’"

Lyons noted his opposition to an unsuccessful proposal to ban panhandling in street medians. He also said the city should look to create "state housing units."

Mavodones advocated the subsidizing of food pantries and emergency shelters.

"It’s been a high priority of mine and will continue to be a high priority," he said.

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: @randybillings