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City News

Posted on: July 22, 2020

City Continues to Serve Homeless People While Responding to Issues in Deering Oaks Park

NEWS ALERT

The City of Portland continues to compassionately serve people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, as follows:

  • The City is currently operating three (3) emergency shelters in accordance with CDC guidelines: the Oxford Street Shelter (OSS), a temporary shelter at the Portland Expo, and the Family Shelter; and,

  • The City continues to offer day services where clients have access to three meals a day on site as well as additional resources; and,

  • The City also continues to provide isolation spaces for anyone awaiting COVID test results or recovering from a positive test result; and,

  • The City worked to transition shelter clients from the temporary wellness shelter at USM’s Sullivan Gym to its shelter beds at OSS and the Expo; and,

  • The City continues to support approximately 175-200 people on a weekly basis in motels.

Over the last couple of weeks, City staff has been responding to numerous complaints from the public over the issues at Deering Oaks Park. With approximately 50% capacity at both the OSS and the Expo, even after incorporating shelter guests who had been previously staying at the temporary wellness shelter at USM, the City has plenty of available shelter beds and day space. The uptick in complaints, and rise in activity at Deering Oaks Park, coincides with the COVID-related closures of on-site operations at the Preble Street Resource Center, the Portland Public Library, and other local assets previously available to people during the daytime. 

In response, City staff, in conjunction with its community partners, will be providing additional outreach throughout Deering Oaks in an effort to encourage homeless individuals to seek overnight shelter and explain that day services are available and that this is where they will have constant access to food and water. For unsheltered individuals, they will work with them to find shelter. City shelter staff and Milestone shelter staff will reinforce with shelter guests that they are encouraged to stay for day services, and additional outside shaded space at OSS will be provided. 

While the City was not part of the original planning process for Preble Street’s mobile food delivery program, City staff is currently working on a licensing agreement with Preble Street. This agreement will help to ensure their mobile food delivery program is operated in accordance with CDC guidelines as well as in a way that is organized and safe and minimizes the impact on available public safety, sanitation, and parks staff resources in light of the City’s current financial situation.

On Friday, July 17, the City’s Parks Director provided notice to Preble Street that a permit is necessary for their use of public property. In addition and simultaneously, City staff began working with Preble Street to outline a license agreement for their proposed food delivery program. While those discussions were ongoing, Preble Street was not barred by the City from operating its food delivery services. Rather, Preble Street continues to offer its food delivery program at eight other locations while the terms of the license agreement are finalized. This shared goal of feeding people experiencing homelesness builds on the previous collaborative efforts between the City and Preble Street whereby the City provides tax dollars and CDBG funds to assist Preble Street in its mission.  

Mayor Kate Snyder offered, “We know people are struggling. The City of Portland is currently operating three CDC compliant shelters and there are additional beds currently available. Our shelters have 24-hour access, and three meals a day on-site. Portland has long worked with local agencies and nonprofits to respond to the needs of people in our community and now is no different. The City is eager to work proactively and collaboratively with all partners in order to achieve the best outcomes for all of our residents. 

District 1 Councilor Belinda Ray offered: “I want to make sure folks know that all of the people who were being served at the USM Sullivan Gym were transitioned to other shelter facilities before that space was closed. Indeed, 40 went to City-run facilities (23 to the Oxford Street Shelter and 17 to the Expo), 7 went to Milestone Recovery, and 3 went to Preble Street’s Florence House. Additionally, the City still has available beds at both the Oxford Street Shelter and the Expo, and we’re doing outreach to people who are sleeping outside so they know these options exist. As for food distribution, given the numerous street closures the City has approved to allow restaurants to continue to operate, I’m sure accommodations could be made to allow Preble Street to continue to operate in their current location. Of course, if that doesn’t work for them, the City has also identified an alternate location where Preble Street can continue to offer their food service in accordance with CDC guidelines, so I’m hopeful they’ll move forward with that soon to ensure people have some security around where, when, and how they can access meals.” 

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