Preble Street head decries chamber remarks on homelessness

PORTLAND – The head of the Preble Street shelter is calling on supporters to back a task force report calling for new housing for the homeless in the city.

An e-mail sent out by Mark Swann, the executive director of the shelter, said supporters are needed at Monday night’s Portland City Council meeting to counteract comments critical of the housing proposal by the head of Portland’s Downtown District and the Portland Regional Chamber.

After the task force report was released, Douglas Fuss, the president of the Downtown District, said homeless people are "intimidating" city residents and workers.

"They don’t show our city in a good light," Fuss said. "They have hurt our ability to be a tourist destination and also our business."

His comments were echoed by Chris O’Neil, the chamber’s lobbyist, who said Portland needs to become less attractive to the homeless, possibly by adopting "standards of behavior," requiring more work in exchange for aid and instituting a residency requirement for assistance.

Swann said he was "deeply saddened and disappointed by … the misguided and mean-spirited comments on the Portland Task Force plan to prevent and end homelessness. Dehumanizing our neighbors struggling with poverty, homelessness and hunger is deplorable."

Swann said supporters of the task force’s report should speak to and e-mail councilors and also "let the Chamber of Commerce and Portland(‘s) Downtown District know they do not speak for you."

The council, which meets Monday at 7 p.m., is expected to accept the report and refer it to committees for further study and work.