Maine homeless shelters require significant costs

PORTLAND (WGME) – It’s a place no one wants or expects to end up – an emergency shelter. Thousands of Mainers are using them and there’s a cost – the human toll and the monetary expense. A night in the shelter is far from comfortable. Clients sleep on mats just inches apart. It can be noisy and scary and it’s expensive.

According to a city of Portland report it costs approximately $25,086 a year to provide shelter and emergency services for a homeless person. Last year Maine State Housing Authority provided Maine’s 40 emergency shelters with 6.5 million dollars. That money comes from grants and the state general fund. But there’s a lot more money in play in the form of city, federal and private dollars. Some of the programs around Portland aren’t costing taxpayers anything and in fact they’re saving the city and state money. “Over the years many people think we’re part of the city or they think some of the city programs are run through Preble Street but we are separate,” Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swan said.

Swann says there is often confusion over Preble Street’s role in Portland, with even some new counselors believing it’s a city-run program. Preble Street works closely with the city as a non-profit agency and has been operating statewide for 40 years. It has numerous programs and shelters servicing the homeless population and has a healthy operating budget at 10.7 million dollars. 57 percent of that funding comes from various government sources and 43 percent comes from private contributions.

“Probably in a given day close to a thousand people get services through Preble street,” Swann said. “Here in Portland at sort of our key historic programs we serve well over 500 people each day.”

Some of the most visible Preble Street programs in Portland are even more reliant on private dollars. The resource center in Portland’s bayside neighborhood offers homeless people a place to hang out and have a warm meal. Only 12.5 percent or $168,500 of its nearly 1.5 million dollar operating budget comes from public sources. More than 1.3 million dollars come from private donations.

Swann says without the generosity of others homeless people would “be dying of hunger waiting for government help.”

Another active non-profit servicing the homeless population in Portland is Milestone located on India Street. The agency runs an emergency shelter and a medical detox facility. A large majority of its nearly three million dollar operating budget comes from state, federal and local sources.

But Milestone says it provides outreach and support that’s been proven to save the city money. The organization’s HomeTeam, which is funded primarily through a federal grant, rides around the city offering services and often intervening on behalf of a homeless person. Not only does the team provide a needed service it also saves the city money. An independent analysis conducted by a professor at the University of New England found the program saves the city an estimate quarter of a million dollars every year.