The Portland City Council voted Monday evening to declare a limited state of emergency in order to temporarily expand the capacity of the city’s Homeless Services Center (HSC) by 50 beds through February.
The order passed by a vote of 6-2 Monday, after two previous efforts to approve the expansion on Oct. 2 and 16 failed.
“I understand that the [HSC] is not the option that best meets the needs of many of the people that are unhoused, however it does meet the needs of some,” said City Councilor At-Large Roberto Rodriguez, who voted in favor of the order. “And creating that space there allows some of those to access shelter.”
“This might not be the perfect idea or proposal, this might not be what gets everyone housed, but this is one small piece of the puzzle — one that in my assessment has become increasingly critical to the puzzle that we’re trying to put together in our efforts to house individuals,” Rodriguez said.
Mayor-elect and District 5 Councilor Mark Dion also voted for the order Monday, despite having opposed the expansion previously.
“I resisted this particular proposition in the hopes that it would spur the City Manager and her staff to explore every possible option for alternative housing site,” Dion said, explaining that his constituents in the Riverton neighborhood expressed a desire to him for other communities to shoulder the burden of sheltering the homeless.
“I don’t think anybody should freeze to death for us to prove a political point — that’s not the way we manage a humane city,” the Mayor-elect said, stating his intent to vote for the order.
The temporary expansion is estimated to cost the city an additional $568,000 in expenses in the current fiscal year, though due to donations and General Assistance reimbursement the city estimates a net impact to taxpayers of under $32,000.
The General Assistance reimbursement has been received on a 10-12 month delay over the last year, so a portion of the reimbursement may not be received until Fiscal Year 2025, according to the order’s financial impact statement.
The order is expected to require the hiring of an additional 11 new HSC staff, and employees working in the shelter while the state of emergency order is in effect will receive hazard pay.
The order states that since the HSC opened on March 27, 2023, all 203 of its beds have been occupied every night.
Current city data reports a total of 212 tents throughout Portland, with the city’s largest homeless encampment now located under the Casco Bay Bridge — following the Nov. 1 sweep of the Marginal Way Park and Ride encampment.
A new, $4.6 million, 179-bed shelter in Portland’s Riverton neighborhood that is designated exclusively for single asylum seekers is set to open on Nov. 29.
The opening of the new Riverton shelter, according to city officials, is expected free up and estimated 100-120 beds at the HSC that are currently being taken up by asylum seekers.
The emergency declaration is set to be reevaluated by the City Council following the opening of the Riverton shelter.