“Get your tents ready, we might hafta go camping in Lincoln Park again!”
Those were the remarks of an upset homeless woman as she stood outside Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter last week following the announcement that a nearby overflow shelter will be shut down at the end of June.
The makeshift overflow shelter, which consists of 75 thin mats on the floor of the Preble Street Resource Center, is regularly filled to capacity.
Folks typically line up the Oxford Street Shelter at around 5 or 6 pm, and wait times for beds can take several hours.
Once the main shelter is filled, people are sent down the street to the overflow shelter, and once that’s filled they are sent to the nearby General Assistance building on Lancaster Street and given a hard plastic chair to attempt sleep on.
The decision to shut down the overflow shelter comes from Portland City Hall, but it ultimately boils down to the ground-level effects of Governor LePage’s maniacal bent against Maine’s largest city and the desperate, marginalized people who flock here seeking the type of help that isn’t offered anywhere else in the state.
Overburdened by debt that the state of Maine should- but won’t- reimburse, city officials have made the difficult- but not necessary- decision to lay off three staff workers at Oxford Street Shelter on top of shutting down the overflow shelter.
In the empty office space, 10 mats will be added to help soften the blow, but that still leaves 65 more people on the streets of Portland on any given night.
The woman quoted above wasn’t the only person to react emotionally following the news last week.
“Downtown Portland is gonna be crawling with homeless people!” a man exclaimed.
“We can all join together and protest this,” implored another woman, “we’ve done it before and we can do it again!”
A man who asked not to be identified explained his concerns, “we all understand that this is because of what LePage is doing in Augusta, but that doesn’t mean that the city of Portland should turn their backs on us.”
Several other people discussed camping in Lincoln Park to draw attention to the issue, while others expressed interest in starting a petition to give to city councilors at a May 12th hearing on the matter that will include public testimony.
Regardless of any sort of protest effort though, the closing of the overflow shelter appears to be a done deal- at least for now.
But that doesn’t mean we should just stand idly by and accept it.