BNA Barron Center Site Support Letter

From: Sarah Michniewicz <sarahmichniewicz@me.com>
Subject: BNA Barron Center Site Support Letter
Date: July 8, 2018 at 2:49:00 PM EDT
To: Belinda Ray <bsr@portlandmaine.gov>, Ali Pious <pali@portlandmaine.gov>, Brian Batson <bbatson@portlandmaine.gov>
Cc: Nicholas Mavodones <nmm@portlandmaine.gov>, Justin Costa <jcosta@portlandmaine.gov>, Cook Kim <kcook@portlandmaine.gov>, Jill Duson <jduson@portlandmaine.gov>, Spencer Thibodeau <sthibodeau@portlandmaine.gov>, Ethan Strimling <estrimling@portlandmaine.gov>, Jon Jennings <jpj@portlandmaine.gov>, Michael Sauschuck <mjs@portlandmaine.gov>

 

July 7, 2018

Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee
City of Portland
389 Congress Street
Portland, ME  04101


To Councilors Ray, Ali and Batson,

The Bayside Neighborhood Association supports both the proposal to build a new homeless services center, and to locate it on the Barron Center campus.

The BNA advocates for the Bayside neighborhood where the current Oxford Street Shelter, along with a large number of Portland’s essential social service providers, is located.  This facility has been inadequate for many years and is unable to properly carry out the City of Portland’s stated obligation to do the vital work of caring for our most vulnerable citizens.

The current model of serving the homeless with mats to sleep on in one location and food, medical care, and various other necessary supportive services scattered around the general vicinity is outdated, ineffective and inhumane.  Although this system may have been sustainable when the number of clients was much lower and their needs less intense, it has broken down irreparably in the face of economic challenges, the opioid epidemic, reduced access to health care, and numerous other factors.

As demand has outstripped resources, the Bayside neighborhood has disproportionately borne the impacts of hosting a population whose basic needs are often unmet, the opportunists that are drawn here to prey on them, and the behaviors that accompany such stressors.  Building an adequate and humane homeless services center is a vital first step toward achieving the balance to which every citizen and neighborhood in Portland is entitled.

The BNA has invested a great amount of time and energy over the years, and especially in the last few, educating ourselves in order to understand the situation in our neighborhood.  Through emails, phone calls, and meetings, conversations with city staff, social service providers, shelter clients, neighbors, law enforcement, the district attorney’s office, judges, elected officials at the local, state and federal levels of government, and residents and leaders of other neighborhoods, we are intimately involved in seeking solutions.

Our endorsement of the proposed facility at the Barron Center campus is therefore based on our understanding of the careful work and thoughtful consideration that has gone into its selection, and considers the following factors, most of which are mandated by the revised emergency shelter conditional use standards:

• Best practices: Research by councilors and city staff into effective service delivery models; consultation with homeless services providers; surveys of shelter clients; site visits to well-regarded homeless service facilities in Boston; building to accommodate delivery of necessary wrap-around services; clear site lines; on-site meals and laundry; voluntary adoption of multiple best practices at the existing city shelter.

• Accessibility: Proximity to existing transportation infrastructure and bus routes; plans to incorporate a dedicated shuttle in addition to existing modes of transportation provided through taxi vouchers and city vehicles as needed.

• Financial factors: The use of city-owned land; planned space for partner providers to deliver preventative, routine, and follow-up care to reduce the need and cost of emergency services; existing funding for necessary upgrades to sidewalks, lighting, streets and safety features; potential for public/private partnership to finance construction, potential reduction in expenses for city services such as emergency response, policing and street sweeping.

• Established Infrastructure:  Existing kitchen and laundry facilities at the Barron Center; existing water, sewer and utility access; and existing vehicle access to site reduces construction costs.

• Visibility: Prominent location and campus setting promote clients’ sense of social inclusion while providing privacy via on-site services and a screened courtyard.

•Safety: Shielding a vulnerable population from the volatile and unsafe environment that was allowed to grow unchecked in Bayside; providing a stable and private base from which to work on housing, employment and recovery; an invested neighborhood with many “eyes on the street.”

• Neighborhood prioritization: Amended conditional use standards that require a management plan with provisions for working with the surrounding neighborhood; permanent positions for current trained security staff, which have served to improve conditions around the existing shelter; plans to continue the OSS “Hotline” for neighbors to reach out with questions or concerns; street outreach positions to engage potential clients and support the surrounding neighborhood; strong, clear, responsive and adaptable community policing standards; experience with community engagement and collaboration to maintain existing quality of life.  

Please note: Neighborhood engagement and safety is a non-negotiable priority for the BNA, and our continued support is predicated on the robustness and effectiveness of the above measures.   

• Community amenities: Plans for a public health clinic and community policing/police substation to benefit the neighborhood and fill community needs; appropriate architecture to complement existing structures and add value to the neighborhood.

• Equitability: Engaging other areas of the city to support the goals of the new comprehensive plan, our shared interests, and the common good.

•Completing the picture: Asking other communities to participate through reimbursement and by caring for their own population; continuing the exploration of small shelter zoning to augment a coordinated entry model.

While at one point it may have been feasible to correct the deficiencies of the existing city shelter, that opportunity is long past.  The toxic and increasingly dangerous conditions that have been allowed to flourish in Bayside make the city’s social obligations far more difficult and costly than they should be, and normalcy almost impossible for residents, visitors, providers, and social service clients alike.

The current situation is not sustainable, and we will not stand for it to continue, here or in any other neighborhood.

The BNA firmly believes that these conditions are not simply the result of hosting the city’s shelter and so many other social services, but of an entrenched and fearful mindset that has kept better options from being pursued in the past.  Indeed, there has long been an attitude that there are no better options.  The selection of the Barron Center campus site is proof that current city leadership is ready to change that narrative, and is willing and able to act.

We urge you to vote to recommend to the full council that the new homeless services center be sited on the Barron Center campus, and to move forward at the pace that this emergency situation demands.

Sincerely,

Sarah Michniewicz
President, Bayside Neighborhood Association

 

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