New Homeless Services Center: Info and Resources

The BNA has spent years advocating for improved services for people who are homeless and at risk, and for the safety and civility of our community.  These goals go hand in hand.

The recently announced plan to locate a new homeless services center on the Barron Center campus is the latest step undertaken by the City of Portland to address the concerns of Baysiders, service providers, and those who need these services.

This change is, quite reasonably, raising concerns across the city, and many people are on a steep learning curve to understanding both the current situation and the plans for change, both of which have been years in the making.  We hope you find the following digest and links helpful.

  • Bayside hosts several shelters and service providers.  One of them is going to close.
    Zoom into this Google map and look around, and you’ll find the City of Portland Oxford Street Shelter, the City of Portland Family Shelter, the Preble Street Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter, the Preble Street Resource Center, the Portland Social Services Department, and numerous other social services provided by organizations such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, and local and regional providers.  When the new facility opens, the Oxford Street Shelter is going to close.
  • We have a situation.  We need a system.
    “Everyone agrees the situation needs to change” is a common refrain from all quarters: service providers, politicians, city officials and staff, police officers, healthcare workers, business owners, homeowners, renters, currently homeless people and previously homeless people.  The social ills of Bayside and Portland are not a result of “the shelter” or “the homeless.”  They are the result of a Frankenstein-like hodgepodge of services which have become overwhelmed by the opioid crisis and federal and state budget cuts, and exploited by criminal predators.  Shelter stayers have to walk here and there just to get a meal, through a gauntlet of risks and often with all of their belongings.  A modern, dedicated facility in a new location will provide the resources that homeless people and service providers deserve, and disrupt entrenched patterns and habits that contribute to the undereffective and dangerous situation we have now.
  • The city and many other stakeholders have been working on this for a while.
    Back in 2012, a dedicated task force spent a year focused on homelessness and related issues, producing this Strategic Plan. The plan involves much more than a shelter, but on that topic, the recommendation is “a centralized intake process through which all clients who are homeless would be assessed…for diversion to housing, other specialized shelters or other housing situations…co-locating all service delivery partners within this centralized intake…”  The new service center will benefit from the recommendations in this plan, plus additional extensive research done in the years since.
  • The new facility will be nothing like the old facility.
    The Oxford Street Shelter is basically a multifamily house, on a residential street.  It doesn’t even have its own driveway.  It doesn’t serve food or have laundry facilities.  When it opened in 1989, it had 50 shelter beds.  It currently serves around 150 people at a time, in a space that wasn’t designed as a shelter.  The new facility, no matter where it is built, will be designed for its intended use and based on current best practices.
  • The rules for running an emergency shelter have changed.
    In June of 2017, the conditional use standards for emergency shelters were amended. Previously, there were two conditions: the facility had to comply with the city’s Comprehensive Housing Assistance Plan and be registered with the City. Now, all emergency shelters are required to have a Management Plan that outlines “Management responsibilities; Process for resolving neighborhood concerns; Staffing; Access restrictions; On-site surveillance; Safety measures; Controls for resident behavior and noise levels; and Monitoring Reports.”  Also mandatory are Metro access, on-site support services, space to conduct security searches, bike storage, a screened outdoor area, and laundry, kitchen, and pantry access.
  • Services will be co-located, and transportation will be available.
    The benefits of on-site meals and laundry are obvious.  Plans for the new facility also include “a wide range of services including:  health and mental health care, substance use treatment, housing assistance, peer support, case management, employment assistance, and more.”  But obviously, every provider in the region can’t be co-located, so the new plan includes a shuttle, so people can maintain relationships with providers they know.  The Barron Center location is also on a major Metro line, and options like taxi vouchers and a city van will be continued.
  • The city is already taking action.
    Over the past year the city has budgeted for and implemented as many best practices as possible in the current location. Lockers, additional restrooms, and trained security staff have been added in response to neighborhood input. Staying open 24 hours means guests are no longer forced to leave the shelter during the day. And the Portland Opportunity Crew offers an alternative to panhandling and a path to employment.
  • Siting a facility that helps the homeless is hard.
    Setting aside the challenges related to stigma for a moment, any facility designed for this purpose has physical and logistical requirements that exclude many locations that might otherwise be desirable. Space is needed for beds, lockers, dining, supplies, staff offices, private conversations, computer work, group meetings and activities, and healthy outdoor space. Clear sight lines are important for the security of all. Each additional floor means expenses of stairs and elevators, plus additional logistical concerns and security staff, so a large footprint is required. Any facility serving a large number of people, whether it’s a homeless shelter or a high-end hotel, needs to consider the impact on adjacent communities. Here in Bayside, we see firsthand the results of drawing arbitrary lines for where such a facility “belongs.” Feelings of community or isolation aren’t just driven by geographic location, and location is only one of many considerations in creating an effective facility for this purpose.
  • This is not “The Fix.”  It’s a step.
    The current crisis didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t be fixed all at once.  Other steps initiated by the Strategic Plan such as the Long Term Stayers Program and new Housing First facilities have already produced positive results.  Future plans include small shelter zoning and licensing, which will enable the creation of short-term housing for smaller numbers of people and specific populations such as veterans, the LGBTQ community, survivors of domestic abuse, etc.  This facility does not prevent ongoing improvements; it enables them.
  • We’re here for you.
    Members of the BNA have been involved with these issues for years.  We don’t claim to be experts, but we’ve lived much of the history and difficulty that has led to this point.  We’ve spent hundreds of hours at City Hall, worked closely with the staff of the Oxford Street Shelter, and have had many hours of conversation with people who will be impacted by this change. The current situation is not sustainable, and we will not stand for it to continue, here or in any other neighborhood.  Whatever your interest in this initiative, our door is open, and we encourage robust debate on this very complex topic. Given the urgency of need, it’s critical that discussion is focussed on relevant facts, not rumors or exaggerations, but we respect all points of view.

The BNA supports the new shelter redesign and relocation proposal; read our letter here.  We look forward to conversations with all concerned parties.  Contact us at or visit us on Facebook.


Meet Your Neighbor: Nolasque Israbahenda

By Alicia Harding


Photo of Nolasque Israbahenda by Alicia Harding
Photo of Nolasque Israbahenda by Alicia Harding

When I work out in the area overlooking the pool at the Portland YMCA I notice Nolasque Israbahenda, the swimming instructor. He greets each child coming into the pool area with a smile and big hello that says, “Hey, special person, happy you’re here.” I watch him going out of his way to help adjust a life jacket or to make sure each swimmer’s needs are being met. He radiates a cheerful friendliness.


On first meeting I would never have guessed that here is a man old enough to have a son in college. Everything about him–his slender physique, nearly beardless chin and, of course, his terrific smile–suggests a much younger man. When I had the opportunity to speak with him I revised that first impression to include a man of substance who has led a complicated and full life.

He readily agreed to talk to me. As with any American, my first question (after struggling with the spelling of his name) is “Where are you from?”

Burundi is a small landlocked country in the heart of Africa with a population of 10 million. It was once part of what was called the Belgian Congo, as was Rwanda. Both countries suffer from similar problems. They share similar languages, the same tribal groupings, and the legacy of a brutal imperialistic ruler. (Quite possibly King Leopold gets the award for being the most inhumane sovereign in colonial history–a not-much-coveted award for which their were many contenders.)

Burundi is a poster child for all the problems that beleaguer Africa today. It has a one-crop economy dependent on world prices of coffee and tea, out-of- control population growth (almost half the population is under the age of 15), an infant death rate of 6.9% (Germany .034, U.S. .06, England .04), and a per capita income of $900 per year. That’s about .43/hr. based on a 40-hour workweek. Burundi’s ranking is 180 out of possible 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index (U.S 5, Norway 1).

Mr. Israbahenda came here seeking sanctuary from war. While he says there are no conflicting ethnic groups in Burundi (“one Burundi, one language”), the continuing violence counters this optimistic view. The first democratically elected president was assassinated after only 3 months in office, throwing the country into a prolonged civil war between Hutu and Tutsi peoples. The current president thwarted the constitution when he was elected for a third term. Assassinations continue to plague the government.

While we who were born in the U.S. tend to see all immigrants from Africa as having the same experiences, that is not the case at all. Mr. Israbahenda’s situation is much different from that of many Africans. He came here three years ago with his wife and three sons, not as a refugee, he said, but seeking political asylum. Many immigrants have spent long years in refugee camps and had very few educational or economic opportunities. Mr. Israhabenda has a university education and once held a good job in the financial office of a multinational nonprofit company. He brings with him strong computer and math skills.

His job here is of a very different nature. He is likely the only lifeguard in the state who has a degree in economics. Mr. Israbahenda speaks three languages–Kirundi, French, and English–but limited fluency in spoken English is an enormous barrier to getting a job. Few immigrants are able to work in the field for which they were trained in their native countries. Building on what had been his volunteer interest in Burundi, Mr. Israhabenda took the job at the Y.

He does not dwell on problems of adjusting to a new country, possibly because he lived in a city, the capital, Bujambar, and cities tend to have a universal similarity. Burundi has a rural economy so it is not surprising that, as Mr. Israhabenda says, there was more natural food available, but it is similar to what we eat, although prepared differently.

He is very interested in the neighborhood and would be open to being involved in the Bayside Neighborhood Association when his work schedule permits. His concerns are the problems of young people smoking and not giving their full attention to school and of the lack of parental involvement in their children’s education. His advocacy for the Y–“They have lots of good programs”– as a valuable alternative for these kids and for all children might be one solution

During the course of our talk Mr. Israhabenda repeatedly told me how kind people are in the U.S.. His answer when I asked what surprised him about this country? “There are so many dogs.”

If you see Mr. Israhabenda out and about, take a moment to say hello. You will be well rewarded by meeting a person worth knowing.

Meeting Place Bayside

MEETING PLACE is an arts-based community development project to increase pride, unity,
economic vibrancy and civic engagement with a diverse (economic, racial, ethnic, age, gender)
group of residents in four Portland neighborhoods.  In September, participants will celebrate with a city-wide festival to share the art, stories and music with their neighbors. Participating neighborhoods include Bayside, Libbytown, East Bayside and the West End.

Meeting place is seeking volunteer artists and community members to help gather stories and create art.  If you “live, work, play or love” any of these neighborhoods, you are encouraged to participate.  If you have a story to tell you are also encouraged to participate.

In addition to the projects listed below, Bayside members are also working on a public art project called Phoenix Square that will take place in the Preble Street/Kennebec Street area on September 29 in Bayside.  Please email us at if you would like to volunteer or participate!

Each neighborhood has a lead artist who is working on the Gateway Arts Project for the neighborhood-wide festival in September:

“Libbytown Street Poems” led by Betsy Sholl, featuring stories edited into Poetry Sidewalk Stencils

“West End Snapshots”  led by Tonee Harbert, featuring stories and photographs

“Bayside Stories” led by Daniel Minter, featuring stories and block print images on Art Cards

East Bayside “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, led by Tim Clorius, Jonathon Cook, Jan Piribeck, and Kelly Rioux, featuring Wire Fence Murals made with recycled materials

All the art work and stories generated will be exhibited in various neighborhood locations during
Meeting Place Neighborhood Open House Days:
September 22nd – Libbytown & West End
Sept 29th – Bayside and East Bayside.

Partners include Creative Portland, Portland Buy Local, Portland Trails, Portland Housing Authority,
Portland Adult Education, League of Young Voters, Maine Historical Society and the City of Portland.

For more info:

Meeting Place Bayside on Facebook

BNA Facebook

Art At Work Website

Drumming with Shamou
Drumming at Meeting Place Bayside
Poetry with Betsy Scholl

The Baysider Newsletter

The Baysider is BNA’s community newspaper, which is published quarterly and distributed throughout Bayside and Portland. We are always interested in new articles and items of interest. Please contact us if you are interested in contributing or sponsoring our publication. Advertisement specs available upon request.

Read the latest issue online here:

The Baysider Winter/Spring 2016

The Baysider Fall 2015

The Baysider Spring 2015

The Baysider Fall 2014

The Baysider Spring 2014

The Baysider Fall 2013