By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,226)
Earlier this evening the mayor’s task force on homelessness presented its draft recommendations to a crowded State of Maine room at Portland’s city hall. Almost a year ago, the task force was appointed by the city council and charged with developing a strategic plan to prevent homelessness that can be endorsed by the city council.
Tri-chair Suzanne McCormick, said the 18 member task force broke out into numerous subcommittees to study different aspects of homelessness before coming together to consolidate its recommendations in this report. Facilitating the meeting, McCormick, of United Way of Greater Portland, said “there is no one face of homelessness. In our system, there are 440 homeless each night. There is a strain here in Portland on the system.”
There are three recommendations in the draft report which is available on-line. The first is to create a “centralized intake process where all clients who are homeless would be assessed.” This filter would direct the homeless to the appropriate housing facility, leaving the emergency shelters free for the correct population; those not needing long-term housing which accounts for 71%. Secondly, and the recommendation with the largest price tag, the task force recommends constructing three new housing units of 35 units each with appropriate supports for homeless people. Thirdly, the task force recommends that case management services be expanded to people who are homeless; a recommendation that will require hiring additional case management staff. Furthermore, the recommendation called for a monitoring body to ensure the implementation plan moves forward in a timely fashion.
The task force heard testimony from many in the room; some raising unresolved issues. Hill resident and owner of Bull Feeney’s Bar, Doug Fuss asked if Portland should be “treating people from other cities?” Jan Beitzer, of Portland Downtown testified: “We were hoping for some strategy tonight because of what we see every day in downtown. We are still seeing problems that hurt business. Twenty percent to twenty-five percent of the people are from out of state and it deserves a discussion.” Several Congress Street business owners expressed their frustration with the bad behavior of the homeless in the area. Danny Hatt, who owns a gift shop, said he had to move his store once because of the bad behavior of the homeless. “It’s a daily problem that needs to be adressed.” Chris O’Neil, lobbyist for the Portland Community Chamber, applauded the report and offered the services of the Chamber in planning the process from hereon forward. The Task Force said that would not be necessary.
The final meeting of the task force is October 11th and it is public. On October 15th, there will be a workshop before the city council with no opportunity for public comment. The recommendation will be presented to the city council on November 5th, with an opportunity for public comment.