Preble Street reorganizes in response to pandemic

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Businesses and organizations have changed the way they operate because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the Preble Street Resource Center is no different.

The center has plans for a 40-bed wellness shelter at its 5 Portland St. location. It will operate 24 hours a day with social workers trained in de-escalation and clinical assessment skills. Meals and laundry services will be provided.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services and MaineHousing asked Preble Street to open two emergency shelters for homeless individuals. Those included the Wellness Shelter at the University of Southern Maine gym in Portland, and a Quarantine Shelter at a local hotel.

The Portland City Council recently heard an update on the USM gym, which had been able to accommodate up to 50 people. However, with the school year approaching, the USM gym was no longer an option.

Preble Street Resource Center, Portland
Preble Street Resource Center in Portland recently announced it would no longer offer food at the soup kitchen door or serve food in the dining room. Instead, the center will deliver prepared meals to individuals who need them. (Portland Phoenix file/Colin Ellis)

According to a memo to the council, people staying at the gym will be reintegrated elsewhere throughout the city. City staff, Preble Street, MaineHousing and the DHHS commissioner’s office outlined transition plans, with Milestone Recovery offering additional shelter space and transportation.

A total of 42 individuals were moved last week: 26 men going to the Portland Exposition Building; 16 women to the Oxford Street Shelter; seven people to Milestone, and one person to Florence House on Valley Street.

Preble Street transitioned away from offering in-house meals to those in need several months ago, during the early stages of the pandemic. However, recently the center announced the organization would no longer offer food at the soup kitchen door or serve food in the dining room as part of several permanent changes that began last week.

According to an announcement from Preble Street, these changes are a direct response to the threat of COVID-19 for people experiencing homelessness. Instead, the center will bring prepared meals to individuals who need them rather than them come to the center.

Under this new mobile food services program, 100 percent of the food will switch to a to-go model of delivery. Additionally, the organization will use a mobile pantry to distribute emergency food boxes.

The center’s soup kitchen will transition to a permanent food production facility, where volunteers will package meals to be distributed to area shelters.

The center also created a new program, called the Street Outreach Collaborative, which helps caseworkers connect with people living outside. This program delivers two meals per day to those not staying in a shelter but who are experiencing homelessness.

People in need will still be able to access emergency food pantry supplies Tuesdays through Saturdays, and volunteers will still sort donations and create food boxes.

Preble Street will continue to operate its three housing programs – Logan Place, Huston Commons and Florence House. They will also provide case management and housing support with its anti-trafficking services and state veterans housing services. The veterans housing services has helped 258 veterans and their families find stable housing in the past six months, and they expect to see that number increase.

Preble Street also outlined a vision for the next five years. Part of that is a plan to expand the women’s shelter capacity by 75 percent by opening a new women’s shelter. This will add 30 beds.

The organization also plans to open a healing center to support survivors of human trafficking. They will also consolidate services for homeless and runaway youths to combine the Preble Street Teen Services under one roof.

Preble Street also plans to establish a fund to support emergency services, especially as demand increases. They will also invest in high impact advocacy work to advance public policy around hunger, homelessness and human trafficking.