update

A message from the Executive Director

December 12, 2017

Dear Friends and Supporters of Preble Street,

In the Portland Press Herald this morning (“City proposes new $10 million shelter in Portland with 200 beds”) we were surprised to read a statement from the City of Portland asserting:

“For too long, clients have had to leave each morning with no place to go.”

Please be aware that for over 30 years there has always been a place for Oxford Street Shelter (OSS) clients—and others—to go each morning to eat, to have other basic needs met, to be safe and warm, and to meet with professional social workers. We would hate for OSS clients or others trying to survive in tragic circumstances to be under the false impression that our services are no longer available.

The Preble Street Resource Center still provides the same services it always has, and will continue to do so indefinitely.

On any given day, these services are provided to more than 350 people. Far too many people for our space and limited staff. Like OSS, the Preble Street Resource Center was designed and opened many years ago to serve a fraction of the number of people we currently see every day. For that reason, among others, we are very pleased the City has expanded OSS hours. And—from what we know about it so far—we are supportive of the City’s plans to relocate, expand, and re-envision a new City-operated shelter.

We know how difficult being open during the day is for homeless shelters. Our Teen Shelter and Florence House are both 24-hour programs. And the Resource Center has been the de facto day shelter in Portland for over two decades—a role it is still playing alongside the expanded OSS hours.

We certainly welcome the expanded hours of OSS. We can’t do it alone. Just last summer, for the first time in over 20 years, we had to close each afternoon to develop a safe and clinically-sound response to the growing opioid crisis this community is facing. We resumed regular hours at the end of October before the cold weather returned.

The Resource Center has been open for business in its current location since 1993, serving—among other things—as a “day shelter” for OSS, Milestone Recovery, and for people who are sleeping outside. Families from the City of Portland’s Family Shelter come to do their laundry at the Resource Center. Clients from domestic violence shelters come for services. We are open seven days/week, 365 days/year, even throughout the worst snow storms in recent memory.

As I write this, with snow falling outside, there are over 300 people at the Resource Center right now—the only place in the state where people can access consistent case management without insurance.

Today, as every day, 1,000 hot nutritious meals will be served. We provide nine bathrooms, four showers, three laundry machines, and locker space with 150 units to meet basic needs. Caseworkers will engage people while providing socks, underwear, jackets, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap. Clients will collect their mail (we’re the mailing address for over 500 people) and use our phones to connect with family, doctors, employers. In our Resource Room clients will access computers, and be assisted with applications for housing, SNAP, and MaineCare. Evictions will be averted. People will connect to primary care providers.

Today, Preble Street’s social workers—including some who are fully-licensed to deliver clinical care—will provide assistance with housing location, employment services, family reunification, safety net services, and crisis stabilization.

They’ll work intensively with people suffering from untreated mental illness and substance use disorders—reversing overdoses once every eight days, administering Narcan and chest compressions on clients they know well and care deeply about while waiting harrowing minutes for the ambulance to arrive. Today may be one of those days.

Preble Street staff from other programs including the Maine Medical Center/Preble Street Learning Collaborative, Veterans Housing Services, Homeless Voices for Justice, the Anti-Trafficking Coalition—as well as staff from Greater Portland Health—will all convene in this space to work with clients, survivors, and patients.

Every week, Preble Street staff members sit down with clients in a special women’s group, a performance group, a peer support group, and with Homeless Voices For Justice, where people who have experienced homelessness are supported in giving voice to improve the homeless provider systems.

Every week, Maine Homeless Legal Project connects clients with volunteer attorneys from local law firms, sometimes taking cases all the way to trial. Frannie Peabody offers testing and distributes contraceptives. University of Southern Maine nursing students check blood pressure and vitals, and offer foot care. Opportunity Alliance offers mental health services. Catholic Charities provides social services. And monthly, Adult Protective Services meets with Resource Center caseworkers and extremely vulnerable clients.

Over the past several years you’ve heard us talk about our newer initiatives: the Maine Medical Center/Preble Street Learning Collaborative; Huston Commons; our Anti-Trafficking Coalition; and our recent efforts to move the state to respond to the opioid public health emergency. As an anti-poverty agency, we have a lot on our plate these days.

But the work we do at the Resource Center—while getting less attention—is a core program of Preble Street. There is a world of hurt that reveals itself each and every day at the Resource Center, and it is a part of our mission to be there for those suffering.

We’re immensely proud of the social work there, the extraordinary volunteer commitment, and the deep service partnerships we’ve developed. While we certainly acknowledge and agree we have a serious capacity issue, we also feel strongly that the Resource Center has been integral in making Portland a city where residents and businesses are proud to live and work.

Swannie