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Portland hopes new initiative will connect unsheltered population with stable housing

City workers clearing the encampment by the Casco Bay Bridge on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
City workers clearing the encampment by the Casco Bay Bridge on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024..

A new pilot program in Portland could help up to 90 unsheltered people find stable housing over the next year.

The city of Portland is planning to launch the Housing Opportunities for People in Encampments, or HOPE, program this year.

Most of Portland's largest encampments have been cleared, but there are some smaller sites on private property near the city's outskirts.

Portland city manager Danielle West said the goal is to connect at least 45 people living outside with stable housing within the first year.

It's about "looking around and ensuring that it's not going to be just for a month or two, that it's going to be something more consistent, and really focusing on the needs of the specific individual and trying to pair that person up with what they need," she said.

The $678,000 pilot program will pay for hiring of three housing navigators through MaineHousing and a coordinator based within the city of Portland. The program will also cover landlord incentives and move-in costs for those who secure housing. West said the need for more housing navigation services became apparent during the discussions that the city's encampment crisis response team has lead over the last few months.

The initiative would mostly be paid for through MaineHousing funds, as well as city pandemic relief money. The Portland City Council must approve the funding first; votes are planned for Monday.

The council will also reconsider the emergency order that allowed the Homeless Services Center to add 50 more beds late last year.

"We've seen a really huge increase in the response to coming inside," West said. "Staff is recommending that we continue the 50-bed increase in capacity because of that need. Clearly, the need is there. We have continued to use those beds.

The shelter currently has a total of 258 beds. The council could vote Monday to keep that capacity through at least June 3.