Task Force to Propose Changes for Portland Homeless Shelter

PORTLAND (WGME) — Portland’s City Council voted unanimously Monday to create a task force that will assess Portland’s Oxford Street Homeless Shelter.

“I don’t think any of us would build a system the way our current system is set up today,” City Councilor Ed Suslovic said Tuesday. “It’s a chance to step back and say how could we do this better?”
The task force will include Preble Street, the Portland Police Department and various neighborhood associations. The group will look at multiple options to accomodate the city’s homeless population including expanding the current shelter, creating smaller shelters accross the city and privatizing the shelter operation.

“One idea that we’ve promoted to the city is maybe we can combine our resource center with the Oxford Street shelter and have a 24 hour safe place,” said Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swann. “We’d have all the meals, daytime services, counseling and employment services and housing location programs and really consolidate everything under one roof.”

Swann says overcrowding is a problem, and every night the Oxford Street shelter is full to capacity. Suslovic says the task force will also look at ways to keep people from becoming homeless.

“What the study is designed to do is to say, ‘Is there a better mouse trap? Is there a better way to provide emergency shelter to folks,'” Suslovic said. “Is there a better way to move people out of the shelter? Is there a better way to keep people from having to use the shelter in the first place?”

The current shelter is leased from a private landlord so the task force will also look into locations for something more permanent.
Swann says the ideas are constructive but the money to make them happen isn’t there.

“It may be a worthy discussion from a theoretical place or an academic place but it is not going to happen the way things stand right now in terms of funding source,” said Swann.