Protesters fight cuts to Portland shelters

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — "What do we want? Shelters. When do we want them? Now," protesters chanted outside Portland City Hall Tuesday, fighting the city’s plan to close the overflow space at the Preble Street Resource Center.

"I hope they don’t, but if they close Preble Street, where are we going to go?" Robert Storer, who’s homeless, said.

If the city’s budget passes, it would displace 75 people from the overflow space starting July 1, according to officials at Preble Street.

Many of the protesters were part of the Homeless Voices for Justice group. They laid out 75 beds to make their point.

The city also plans to discontinue placing homeless families with children in area motels once the family shelter is full.

The city says each hotel room costs them a flat rate of $60 a night, and that the state has informed the city it will no longer pay for the overall operating costs for its shelters. The state will only reimburse the city for people who are financially eligible.

After the protest, demonstrators went to the Public Safety, Health and Human Services committee meeting, where they had the opportunity for public comment. Nearly every person at the meeting spoke out against the cuts.

Many city officials don’t want to make these changes, but fear they might have to.

"Many of them don’t know where they’re going to live for the next month or the next two months, and that is a very difficult situation for them to be in and for us to be in as a city," Mayor Michael Brennan said.

City officials blame the cuts on how the state is distributing General Assistance money, reimbursing the city only for people who are financially eligible.

Responding to those claims, DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew writes in a statement, "Fighting homelessness and supporting emergency housing services are goals we share, but it is in violation of state law to use state taxpayer supported General Assistance for the operating costs of homeless shelters and failing to verify the eligibility of those staying in the shelter."

Portland City Council is scheduled to vote on its proposed budget, which includes the cuts to the homeless shelter programs. Monday May 18.