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City manager misrepresents plan for resource center’s future

Preble Street officials haven't said that the day shelter could wind down by a certain date, and the city hasn't seriously pursued leasing that space.
April 16, 2019 | Portland Press Herald

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