BNA Supports Bayside shelter moratorium

On June 7 the City Council will vote on whether to pass a 180-day moratorium on new emergency shelters in Bayside in order to allow shelter licensing to be approved and enacted. This is our letter of support to the Council.

June 2, 2021

To Mayor Snyder and Members of the City Council,

The Bayside Neighborhood Association is in full support of Order 260-20/21 Establishing a 180-Day Moratorium on New Shelters in the Bayside Neighborhood.

We urge you to adopt this targeted, time-bound moratorium in order to ensure that appropriate, sensitive and beneficial shelter licensing may be developed and enacted, free of the pressure or confusion that a new shelter proposal would bring to bear on the process.

The history of Bayside’s poorly integrated social service cluster, developed in the absence of planning, policies, and public process, demonstrates why this moratorium, and licensing, are desperately needed:

• Between 1987 and 2000, the City’s emergency shelter relocated twice and steadily increased capacity from 20 beds to 154 at its present Oxford Street location. All three of the shelter’s locations have been in the Bayside neighborhood.

• The City’s present family and adult emergency shelters, with a combined total of 300 beds, are located within 100′ of each other in a dense R6 neighborhood where emergency shelters are not currently permitted.

• Over the past two decades or so shelters throughout the City closed and to compensate, multiple “temporary” overflow facilities, ultimately comprising over 200 beds, were allowed to open in close proximity to the City shelters and one another without meaningful council involvement, policy development, or community engagement. 

• Instead, these increases were recommended by the Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee, an independent group of social service providers, unaccountable to the City. It should be noted that the ESAC of today has not taken a position on this moratorium, nor did the majority of its member agencies, which suggests that in the opinion of some key stakeholders the proposed moratorium would not create any substantive issues or challenges to their work on behalf of individuals experiencing homelessness.

• During these expansions of services Bayside residents and businesses were not given the benefit of the public planning process that occurred elsewhere when shelters opened in other neighborhoods and the Downtown District.

• The conditional use standards for emergency shelters in effect up until 2017 only required that a shelter comply with the city’s housing assistance plan, and be registered with DHHS.

• Many ancillary services sprouted up in the general vicinity of the shelters. Some operated for years under questionable permitting and in a manner that caused excessive and unmitigated community impacts.
Bayside was one of the poorest and most neglected neighborhoods in the City for well over three quarters of a century. In the 1950s the neighborhood was subjected to “slum clearance” and resident displacement. As recently as the 1990s Bayside was identified by US News and World Reports as, by some measures, one of the worst neighborhoods nationwide.

• Segregating marginalized and vulnerable populations into already socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods is a long-standing, intentional practice that’s now recognized as discriminatory, counterproductive, and inherently inequitable.

• Concurrent with the growth in the number of emergency shelter beds the levels of crime, from “low-level” to violent, increased within the boundaries of the Bayside neighborhood while remaining flat in the rest of the City, rising to and remaining at the current level of roughly 20% of the total police calls and 10% of EMS calls for service despite Bayside being 1% of Portland’s landmass and 5% of its population.

Everyone – neighbors, people seeking shelter, and Portland as a whole – has been shortchanged by this lack of planning, care and due diligence. The present urgent need to hit pause via a moratorium is the inevitable result of decades of deferred attention, not a knee-jerk reaction to current circumstances.

This moratorium will not impede or impose restrictions on the operations of any existing shelter, or on shelter planning, development or execution outside of Bayside. It will not harm people experiencing homelessness or delay their progress toward permanent housing. It will be terminated when appropriate licensing has been enacted to correct the historical and existing governance and planning gaps pertaining to emergency shelters in Portland.
What this moratorium will do is allow the City to move forward mindfully, holistically, and justly. It will solidify Portland’s commitment to equitability as it develops licensing to ensure fair distribution of facilities; effective delivery of services; and balanced and safe neighborhoods for all. It will allow Portland to fulfill its explicit and implicit obligations to constituents in neighborhoods where emergency shelters are serving people in need.

The BNA urges you to pass Order 260-20/21.


Sarah Michniewicz
President, Bayside Neighborhood Association

Bayside Neighborhood Association Board of Directors

Colette Bouchard
Dennis Ferrante
Amy Geren
Jim Hall
Alex Landry
Susan McCloskey
Carolyn Megan
Scott Morrison
Heidi Souerwine
Rob Sylvain
Deborah van Hoewyk

BNA Opposes New Preble Street Shelters in Bayside

Preble Street hopes to fast-track conversion of Resource Center into new, permanent shelter without notifying neighborhood.

In June 2020 the BNA learned of the plan to convert the Preble Street Resource Center on Portland Street into a new, permanent 40-bed emergency homeless shelter. The goal is to replace a temporary 50-bed shelter set up at the USM Sullivan Gym to allow for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. For over a year Preble Street has also been attempting to site a shelter at 55 Portland Street, a building they purchased for this purpose despite improper zoning, a variety of incompatible covenants, and community concerns.

The Bayside neighborhood is currently home base for three homeless shelters, three overflow shelter sites, many rehab beds and sober houses, and dozens of other social services. This concentration has had tremendous negative impact and defies current understanding of best practices for serving people experiencing homelessness. For many years the BNA has been told there would be “no new shelters in Bayside,” yet these attempts by Preble Street continue.

The BNA categorically opposes siting any additional homeless shelters in the Bayside neighborhood. Below is our July 17, 2020 letter to the Portland City Council. It was approved by an overwhelming majority of the sixteen member board and eighteen community members signed in support.

June 17, 2020

Mayor Snyder and Members of the City Council,

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced shelter providers to do something no one has tried for over twenty years – disperse the ever-increasing number of people languishing in the streets around Preble Street’s resource center and soup kitchen. Spacing people out at other locations has proven successful in controlling the spread of disease amongst those experiencing homelessness. Physical and mental stress and problematic behaviors have been reduced at the distancing shelters. Apparently this is a revelation. Homeless advocates are wondering “Why didn’t we do this years ago?” That’s a very good question.

But what’s going to happen when the temporary USM Sullivan Gym shelter closes in July? Despite all logic, Preble Street wants to build a new shelter on the ruins they left behind at the resource center, that’s what. Maybe they’ll also try again at 55 Portland Street, despite improper zoning and other restrictions. Either way, the lessons of the pandemic are being ignored if not mocked.

The same people who were beginning to recover, to feel their way forward out of the chaos, will be forced back into the same mess of a neighborhood they left – the same stabbings, the same fights, the same drug deals, the same piles of trash, the same stress, the same despair, the same everything. You all know what goes on here; you know nothing has changed in over twenty years except to get worse. In fact despite over 100 people being sheltered elsewhere, police calls for service doubled in the past month or so. The entrenched idea that this is just what homelessness IS will only be validated by a new shelter.

So I will take this opportunity to remind the Council of a few things in regards to Preble Street’s plan:

• The question of shelter density was raised and ultimately tabled by the Planning Board in 2018. One planning board member referred to small shelter zoning as “a solution in search of a problem.” This indicates an unacceptable lack of familiarity with the extreme impact shelter proliferation has had on the Bayside community. No permits of any kind should be granted by the City without thorough review of Preble Street’s operational impacts and refusal to engage in problem-solving with the neighborhood.

• When shelter zoning was expanded in 2018 new, stringent conditional use standards were crafted for emergency shelters in order to best serve clients and minimize community impact. These requirements are prescriptive and not arbitrary. Any new shelter must be specifically designed to accommodate their implementation. To allow an inadequate shelter to open swiftly and permanently, or even temporarily in a potentially permanent location, is antithetical to the Council’s own intentions, contrary to existing ordinances, and invites legal action.

• Siting homeless shelters now requires extreme care, consideration, deliberation, and process, even more so in Bayside. This neighborhood is living proof of what happens when that care is not taken. Using the pandemic as a reason to expedite permits or deny Bayside complete and thorough process is unacceptable and will be challenged. This situation requires more time and care, not less.

• NO other allowable use in any zone would, in anyone’s wildest dreams, be permitted to create anything close to the impacts of the resource center and soup kitchen. These impacts are real, documented, harmful to the community, and the City apparently has no mechanism to address them. Unless and until a means of mitigating the current situation is found there can be no new shelters in Bayside.

• Preble Street has not proven nor taken any reasonable steps to prove its ability to lessen the impacts of its operations, despite full awareness of community concerns and millions of dollars in annual funding. They do not behave as a responsible community partner despite good faith efforts and even pleas on the part of the neighborhood. It is incumbent upon the city to deny expansion of its services and programs and the addition of any shelters in Bayside for any reason, particularly in an emergency situation whose amelioration depends on safe, sanitary and socially distant conditions.

• The current operations of the Preble Street resource center and soup kitchen, and operations of the City’s Oxford Street Shelter prior to winter 2018, clearly qualify as maintenance of a public nuisance. A proven public nuisance is subject to legal action and potentially an injunction and fines. While the City has instituted effective measures to mitigate, insofar as possible at the current location, the impacts of shelter operations, Preble Street has not. Indeed, Preble Street management has referred to measures such as extended hours, bathroom access, and storage for belongings as “duplicative” in light of the City’s efforts.

And perhaps most important:

• The city has devoted tremendous time and resources to the effort to site a modern homeless services center in Riverton. This process, which involved considerable input from Bayside residents, was specifically aimed at reducing negative neighborhood impacts of shelters. Had this service center moved forward at the original Barron Center site in a timely fashion the need for today’s temporary satellite shelters and hotel rooms may have been reduced if not eliminated. If any shelter deserves to be fast-tracked it is this one; if any shelter doesn’t it’s the one being proposed and operated by Preble Street.

Dan Brennan of Maine State Housing said “We simply can’t go back to the way things were… We need a new shelter system. We need a new approach.” Allowing a new shelter in Bayside is the antithesis of a new system. It’s the same old ineffective approach. It is nothing short of unethical to contemplate sending vulnerable people back to an ill-considered, hastily planned shelter in Bayside, a neighborhood where crime, violence, and despair circulate as easily as any virus.

Maine is a big state. Yet an astounding array of social services and shelters have been gerrymandered into a couple blocks in a poor neighborhood that comprises one percent of Portland’s landmass and five percent of its population. Is it any wonder Bayside commands 21% of Portland’s police calls for service? Nothing about that is even remotely okay, or necessary. Making it worse by allowing an independent nonprofit to increase the shelter capacity of Bayside – a nonprofit that has been quoted as saying that it is not responsible for any impacts outside its doors, and barely responsible for those inside – is indefensible.

Now is the time for other neighborhoods, towns, cities and counties to do their part. For the health and safety of both those people experiencing homelessness and those who live and operate businesses in Bayside, this Council, the City of Portland, and the State of Maine have a duty to ensure that new shelters be sited outside of Bayside. It’s time to stop putting broken people in a broken system into the same broken neighborhood and expect different results.

Thank you,
Sarah Michniewicz
President, Bayside Neighborhood Association

Bayside Neighborhood Association Board of Directors

Laura Cannon, Vice President
Colette Bouchard, Secretary
James Hall, Treasurer
Jonathan Bass
Dennis Ferrante
Amy Geren
Sean Kerwin
Alexander Landry
Susan McCloskey
Scott Morrison
Stephanie Scherer
Heidi Souerwine
Robert Sylvain
Deborah Van Hoewyk
Ex Officio: Preble Street (abstained)

18 Community Members Signed in Support