Portland seeks private funding for new homeless shelter

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The Portland City Council is considering a plan that would include private funding for a new city homeless shelter on Riverside Street.

The 200-bed, 24/7 shelter was first proposed in 2017 and remains in the design phase. City Manager Jon Jennings said the city explored federal and state funding, but those sources have dried up as other statewide needs took priority during the coronavirus pandemic.

Portland City Councilor Mark Dion: “For better or worse, this notion of a 200-bed mega-shelter has really struck a chord among my constituents.”

The city will instead seek a public-private funding partnership. Jennings said the city will draft a request for qualifications or request for proposals to be reviewed by the council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee.

Councilors on Jan. 20 indicated they would like to hear an overview of the project in a workshop since three new councilors were elected last fall.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau warned this would not be an opportunity to debate the merits of the shelter, which the council approved nearly a year ago. The Riverside location, a departure from the traditional downtown shelters, was OK’d in the summer of 2019.

Newly elected District 5 Councilor Mark Dion, who represents the area where the proposed shelter would be built, said his constituents remain concerned about the project. He said they aren’t opposed to the shelter being in their backyard but are concerned about its size.

“For better or worse, this notion of a 200-bed mega-shelter has really struck a chord among my constituents,” Dion said.

He said he does not think it should be the role of municipalities to own a building, and said it was “prudent and reasonable” to find a lease arrangement. He also said, given his experience in the state Legislature, state funding will be a “tough hill to climb.”

Councilors agreed an overview workshop on the history of the project would be beneficial, and will likely be scheduled in February.