Homelessness in Maine down, shelters still full

PORTLAND (WGME) – According to Maine State Housing authority 6,304 individuals were homeless statewide at some point last year. That’s the lowest that number has been since 2010. But the city of Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter, which is designed to sleep 154 people sees on average 220 people every night.

“We don’t require people to be sober, getting treatment, pay to stay any of that,” Oxford Street Shelter Manager Rob Parritt said. “We want people to be in the shelter and not outside.”

According to the Oxford Street Shelter’s Year End Reports the number of people seeking shelter there has been steadily rising, while the number of homeless people statewide has declined. Mark Swann, the executive director of Preble Street, a non-profit servicing the homeless population in Maine, says the rising numbers in Portland’s bayside neighborhood may be addition by subtraction.

“I think we’ve lost seven shelters in the last 12 years,” Swann said. “So when those shelters closed many of the clients have ended up in the Bayside neighborhood and put more and more pressure on the Oxford Street Shelter and more and more pressure on Preble Street.”

Swann believes the shrinking services have created a bottleneck effect, pushing those in need to the places left standing. The city of Portland agrees the system is failing.

“Too often people drive around the general Bayside area they’ll just see a lot of craziness going on with people all over the place,” city manager Jon Jennings said. “That is not the model that you see in other cities and it’s really been a function of poor planning on the city’s part in terms of keeping up with the numbers and other areas.”

Jennings says it’s time for a change and the city is looking at options including a new location, 24-hour service, a soup kitchen and a place that provides services, more than just a roof for the night. At this point it’s still unclear what a new city shelter in Portland would look like, where it would be or how much it would cost.

Numbers Provided by Maine Housing Authority:

In 2016, 6,304 individuals were homeless at some time during the year, and spent a total of 327,346 bednights in the state’s 40 shelters.

In 2015, 7,020 individuals and 347,512 bednights. Average length of stay was 39 nights for homeless and 43 for victims of domestic violence.

In 2014, 7,679 and 359,558 bednights. Average length of stay: 63/34

In 2013, 7,765 and 358,284 bednights. Average length of stay: 65/28

In 2012, 7,745 and 326,379 bednights. Average length of stay: 68/28

In 2011, 7,725 and 304,524 bednights. Average length of stay (wasn’t separated): 39 nights.

In 2010, 7,342 and 296,734 bednights. Average length of stay: 40 nights.