The University of Southern Maine says it will partner with Preble Street to convert the Sullivan Gymnasium on the school’s Portland campus to a temporary 24-hour shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
USM President Glenn Cummings says the move comes as a response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Maine and an increased need for beds that conform to the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.
“The idea being to create additional space that is presently not available under the present homeless shelters now available through Preble Street and through the city," he says. "This will allow greater distance between some of the clients that would be taking advantage of this space. It would be about 50 cots that we will divide into various segments of the gym that will allow the CDC recommended distance between clients.”
In a press release, USM says the shelter will open as soon as possible, and that it is to stay open as long as social distancing guidelines are in place. Preble Street staff and volunteers will run the shelter, with help from the Maine State Housing Authority and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
In the same release, Preble Street’s Executive Director Mark Swann said, “Because we’re extremely concerned about the potentially devastating effects of the COVID-19 public health crisis on people who are the most vulnerable — homeless and immunocompromised — we're grateful to be working with the University of Southern Maine, the State of Maine, and MaineHousing on an immediate and concerted response to meet their needs.”
A grant from MaineHousing will aid in Preble Street’s cost of running the shelter, beyond what can be donated.
Last week, the USM signed a Memorandum of Understanding ensuring that Maine Emergency Management can use the school’s facilities and services to help during the pandemic.
“The University of Maine system has all volunteered to help them whatever ways we can either through our expertise or our faculty or our staff or through the use of our facilities,” says Cummings.
USM moved to remote learning and closed its campus to students earlier this month.
Updated 3:43 p.m. March 28, 2020.
Correction: USM is collaborating with Preble Street, not Preble Street Resource Center, to create a new, temporary shelter.