Topic: Resource Center

City manager misrepresents plan for resource center’s future

Preble Street has a decades-long history of filling service gaps, meeting urgent needs and working in tandem with our partners to address problems and provide hope for our vulnerable neighbors.

Today, we are a strong anti-poverty agency that has many doorways – more than a dozen programs throughout the state, including Anti-Trafficking Services; Veterans Housing Services; Residential Services (Logan Place, Florence House and Huston Commons); Teen Services; Food Programs, and the Maine Medical Center-Preble Street Learning Collaborative, where people begin the journey to opportunity and hope. And we just recently announced that we’re expanding our services by developing a new program: a specialized healing center providing 24-hour safety, support and resources for women experiencing homelessness who are also survivors of trauma, mental illness, substance use disorder, trafficking, torture and violence.

In a story published Monday, Staff Writer Randy W. Billings reported that City Manager Jon Jennings has announced that Preble Street may stop operating day shelter services at one of our programs – the Preble Street Resource Center. As the only other person present when Mr. Jennings and Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swann met March 1, I think it is important to set the record straight.

The meeting was held at the request of Preble Street so that we could outline for Mr. Jennings our plans to establish the new healing center. Mr. Jennings expressed his enthusiastic support for this initiative, which complements the city’s announced plans for addressing homelessness in Portland. For this support, we are grateful.

Mark then told Mr. Jennings that when the city follows through on its very public promise to build a new, state-of-the-art, 24-hour homeless services center to replace the Oxford Street Shelter, Preble Street would be open to stop providing services at the resource center because the services provided at this new city shelter would make many of the resource center services duplicative. We would still continue operating all other Preble Street programs, both in Portland and throughout the state.

Neither Mark nor I at any time ever stated that resource center operations could wind down by a certain date. What we did say – and stand by – is that Preble Street is open to discussing leasing space at the resource center to the city so that the city could provide homeless services there in the interim while it builds its new homeless services center. Although the city manager expressed interest in this idea, neither he nor anyone else at the city has seriously pursued it in the six weeks since we met.

Mr. Jennings may be frustrated that Preble Street has expressed strong opposition to his suggestion that Portland revisit the city’s 30-year promise to shelter all people experiencing homelessness, but he should hardly be surprised, given our longstanding commitment to advocating for people living in poverty. In his reference to our cutting back hours at the resource center, the city manager fails to acknowledge that what allowed us to make this decision to reduce hours was that the city – to its credit – decided to open the Oxford Street Shelter on a 24-hour basis. This allowed Preble Street to continue to work on permanent solutions to homelessness, such as Housing First, and to be assured there is still a safe place in the community for people experiencing homelessness.

The mission of Preble Street has always been rooted in providing services to people who can’t get them anywhere else. We will do everything in our power to continue meeting vulnerable people where they are, addressing needs, and advocating with and for them. We are committed to working with the city and other human service partners – as the agency has done for over 40 years – to make sure no one in need of services is left behind.

Our offer to work with the city at our resource center was made in this spirit of cooperation and support of the city’s efforts to build a much-needed, 24-hour homeless services center.

We look forward to the day the city’s homeless services center opens its doors. We will do our part to help make that happen, just as we are committed to building the new women’s healing center.

Herb Janick, Esq., president of the Preble Street Board of Directors

Commentary: A broken mental health system

Behind the struggles with drugs, crime and extreme poverty in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood – described in a lengthy article in the May 6 Maine Sunday Telegram – is a fundamentally broken mental health system and inadequate treatment for those suffering with substance use disorder.

It’s really that simple.

Read more…

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.

MMC joins with Preble Street to provide health care for homeless

Maine Medical Center and Preble Street have joined forces to ensure the most vulnerable underserved people in Portland have access to quality, barrier-free health care.

The MMC-Preble Street Learning Collaborative seeks to help fill the void left by the closing of the City of Portland Healthcare for the Homeless Clinic in 2014, provide no-barrier access to health services, care-coordination and education and create a new point of entry to the health system, the organizations stated in their announcement on Friday.

Working together, Preble Street and MMC hope to improve the quality of care and client access to existing providers and established medical homes, improve medical residents’ understanding and education of the needs and care of homeless and other vulnerable patients, and increase understanding of health disparities.

“Together we can fill gaps in the health care system that in the past have left far too many of the people we serve without medical treatment,” said Mark Swann, Preble Street executive director.

“People are so very vulnerable on the streets and in shelters. And doing anti-poverty work these days is more challenging than ever before. Putting together this new program with such a highly respected institution is the best news we’ve had in some time.”

Full array of health services

Located onsite at Preble Street, the collaborative will be staffed by Bill Burns, former Preble Street Resource Center coordinator, in a new role as Preble Street health services director, as well as by an MMC nurse practitioner, primary care residents, medical students from the MMC Maine Track program, nursing, pharmacy and social-work students.

The staffing also includes MMC’s Homeless Health Partners case management team, full-time medical social workers from MMC who have been embedded at Preble Street since early 2015, providing clients with short-term, targeted case management to assist in accessing primary care, behavioral health services, and specialty medical services.

“The Maine Medical Center-Preble Street Learning Collaborative combines the best of our two organization’s capabilities in order to meet the unique needs of an underserved population in an effective and sustainable way,” said Dr. Peter Bates, chief academic officer at Maine Medical Center.

With 14 programs throughout the state of Maine, Preble Street provides round-the-clock programs 365 days a year to meet urgent needs, advocate for change, empower people and create solutions for homelessness, hunger and poverty.

Crowd at Portland vigil mourns loss of homeless residents

A crowd estimated at 200 people gathered in Monument Square on Wednesday evening to light candles and read the names of homeless residents who died this year.

The event, held each year on the evening of the winter solstice, started in the courtyard of the Preble Street social service agency before the procession marched up to nearby Monument Square.

“This is such an important night to show our support for our brothers and sisters who are struggling with homelessness,” Caroline Fernandes, residential services director for Preble Street, told the crowd.

For the past 22 years, advocates and the people they serve have gathered for the Homeless Persons’ annual Memorial Vigil. It gives Portlanders a chance to mourn lives cut short and to confirm their commitment to finding a home for everyone who needs one.

Read more.

A simple change could give Maine’s hungry rural people more food

… Over the past year, Good Shepherd Food Bank and Preble Street have undertaken the first research effort of its kind to better understand trends of hunger and food pantry usage in Maine.

The results from more than 2,000 surveys completed in 244 towns in every county show how much Mainers are depending on local food pantries, stretching the capacity of a network that was set up for emergencies. A quarter of those surveyed had lost SNAP benefits in the past year, and 59 percent said they were using pantries more this year than last.

“It was really when the recession hit,” said Kristen Miale, Good Shepherd Food Bank’s president. “They saw the spike, and it has yet to get better.”

Eighty-two percent of those surveyed at their local food pantries use pantries once a month or more often. Seventy-three percent have made trade-offs, having to choose between paying for food or other necessities.

Pantries are filling a need they weren’t designed to fill, said Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street, which offers social work, housing and meals. Good Shepherd Food Bank’s pantry network — of which Preble Street is a part — gives out 21 million meals a year, while SNAP is responsible for the equivalent of 86 million meals.

“The whole idea of food pantries really was about an emergency measure, neighbor helping neighbor when something unexpected happened, catastrophe happened, and when people needed one-time, short-term help,” Swann said. “What we’ve seen is people have been coming back over and over and over again.” …

Read the full article here.

Portland homeless shelters reach capacity because of bitter weather

… Donna Yellen, chief program officer for Preble Street, said the agency’s Joe Kreisler Teen Center reached capacity Wednesday night. The center has 24 beds. Yellen said the staff brought in cots to accommodate the overflow.

Florence House on Valley Street is a 40-bed shelter for women. When it reaches capacity, women are sent to the Oxford Street Shelter. Florence House exceeded its capacity Wednesday night, according to Yellen.

Yellen said the overflow area at Preble Street would be full Thursday night. During the day, Preble Street “was packed, the need is so great.” Preble Street serves three meals a day to the city’s homeless population.

“Homelessness, especially in these weather conditions, is life-threatening,” Yellen said …

Read more.

Service and Sacrifice: Portland’s Preble Street Refuses to Give up on Homeless Veterans

On any given day, dozens gather outside in Portland’s Bayside area, waiting to get inside the Preble Street Resource Center and soup kitchen for a meal.

As Homeless Veteran Al Libby puts it, “if you’re hungry enough, you’ll appreciate it.” And, although he says he appreciates the food, and the warm place to sleep, Libby would prefer to have his own place, “I hate to think I gotta live in the shelter all winter.”

But for 61-year old Libby, it’s the only option. The Rumford native is trying to get back home. He is bi-polar and a veteran.

“I had a place, I just couldn’t afford it. So I just packed up and moved out.”

“It’s a shame that we’re out here. You know another shame is, we gave so much,” former Navy Seal John Donovan shared. He served in the Persian Gulf War. Now he has PTSD and calls Portland’s streets his home. “Military is, I mean I’m grateful for it, but it’s hard on you, it’s hard on our mind more than anything than your body. Just your thoughts.”

For years after his military discharge, Donovan bounced from town to town, state to state, looking for shelter, a job and help. And, Donovan is quick to point out, he is not alone. “Over 60 thousand veterans are homeless. One point four million veterans are at risk of being homeless,” Donovan shared. “You give your heart and soul and these veterans that are out here are alone, they’re scared, I can guarantee you that, and they drink to kill the pain.”

“I sleep out of doors every night, even in the snow,” explained Mark Thomas, an army veteran who lives in Portland. “I slept if it was 15 below zero with the wind chill factor was 30 degrees below zero. I crawl right into that sleeping bag, snuggled up into a doorway down in the old port. Yeah, I do.”
Thomas is 59. He’s college educated and doesn’t like to talk about his service, which took him to 10 foreign countries. He worked in construction in Maine on a variety of projects. “Anything that was big. Houses, mostly buildings.”

Thomas worked until his health deteriorated. Three years ago he had a tracheotomy for throat cancer. Doctors are worried he may have it again. Still, Thomas insists on sleeping outdoors and doing his best to fend for himself.

And this insistence on not asking for help appears to be a part of a larger issue that veterans deal with. “The message that a lot of the people that we serve have internalized is that they’re not worth caring about, that they do deserve sleeping out on the street, or all of the host of medical conditions they have to experience,” explained Bill Burns, Health Services Director at Preble Street—the state of Maine’s largest outreach for the homeless. Burns says that now that winter’s coming, it’s critical to find homeless veterans who are hiding in clear sight.

“Down by the waterfront, in the morning, seven o’clock every week the team is out there engaging folks, trying to get them to come inside, come to services to get the help they need,” Burns said, adding “and suggesting an alternative to sleeping in doorways, sleeping on the wharf and engaging in lots of stuff that’s pretty dangerous.”

Preble Street’s veterans program is unique in that it offers shelter, food and where possible job placement help. It’s what’s known as “low barrier”. Burns says it allows people to get the care they need without bureaucratic or administrative roadblocks. “What Preble street has been really good at doing is kind of developing solutions to community problems. As opposed to saying ‘this is terrible, veteran homelessness is through the roof, or this terrible thing is happening and there’s nothing we can do, well let’s figure out a way.”

A big piece of that solution is getting to the veterans where they are; without judgment. As Burns points out, “nobody grows up dreaming of flying a sign down on Marginal Way; that, nobody dreams of that. So how do we connect people with the person they were before they started experiencing homelessness?”

Reaching that person requires peeling back many layers, taking veterans to a place before the trauma of war. And, as Bill Burns sees it, that can only be accomplished one veteran at a time and requires buy in from an entire community. “I think if you’re serious about building community, if you’re serious about transforming the world, you’ve got to start where you are and you’ve got to start with people who most people have given up on for one reason or another. And, um, we don’t give up.”

Which is encouraging news. Last year, Preble Street provided 377 veteran households with services and had contact with 421 veterans. For information on the Preble Street homeless veterans outreach program and how you can help, contact them at: (207) 956-6556 or Toll Free at (800) 377-5709. You can also email them at: vhs@preblestreet.org