SHARECOMMENTMORE

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The Portland City Council is getting an update on how well its new plan to reduce homelessness is going. And there is good news.

Portland started implementing some new strategies on homelessness in March. A study group had been put together because the number of homeless people in the city just kept growing. The immediate goal of these efforts is to close two of the city's three overflow shelters by mid-January. And so far, the city is on pace to do that.

Last month, one of the overflow shelters was only used 4 nights. The month before, it was regular practice for 15-40 people to stay there. And housing placements are about a third higher than they were at this time last year, ever since Portland started requiring every person seeking shelter to work with shelter staff on a housing plan.

Portland city officials expect to begin two new programs in the next month. One is a partnership with the substance free York County Shelter. Portland will begin placing some homeless people who are new to recovery in that shelter. It can be difficult for those who are just out of detox to come back to an environment where people may be drinking.

The other program would give intense help to those with serious medical conditions, something that's very difficult to do in the shelter.

Oxford Street Shelter Director Josh O'Brien said, "We're happy to have some momentum, but it's going to take a lot of effort this summer when our numbers typically are high to really keep focused and keep working to close those overflow shelters."

The city also is trying to work with other towns in Cumberland County so that when people become homeless outside the city, they do not necessarily come to Portland's shelters.
And Portland is working on some zoning changes that will allow for more affordable housing and so-called "housing first" projects for the chronically homeless.